EU, BiH join forces to combat weapons smuggling

03/02/2014

BiH has made headway in reducing illegal weapons smuggling by working with the EU and its member countries.

By Mladen Dragojlovic for Southeast European Times in Banja Luka -- 03/02/14

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Many of the smuggled weapons are left from the 1990s conflicts, police said. [AFP]

By co-operating with EU member countries, Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) is reducing the amount of illegal weapons smuggling, but the Union is still concerned about the situation.

"The fight against illicit firearms trafficking is high on the EU's agenda, both within the territory of the EU and in our co-operation with third countries. EUROPOL's Serious and Organised Threat Assessment for 2013 shows that this is a key issue to tackle in the Western Balkans countries," Andy McGuffie, spokesman for the EU Special representative in BiH, told SETimes.

In a joint action between police in Republika Srpska (RS) and Sweden last month, more than a dozen people were arrested for allegedly smuggling weapons.

According to RS police, the group was illegally transporting the weapons from the BiH entity to Sweden, where they were going to be sold to criminals.

The international police action resulted in six people arrested in RS and seven in Sweden. Swedish Prosecutor Thomas Eliasson told Radio Sweden that police seized five Kalashnikov rifles, 11 guns and ammunition.

RS Police Director Gojko Vasic said police received a request from their Swedish colleagues to investigate the case three months ago.

"This is just one group. Information from other EU countries shows that this kind of smuggling goes in several ways. Earlier, we had similar actions with police institutions from France and the result also was several arrests," Vasic told SETimes.

He said that in most cases, smugglers in the region buy weapons left from the 1990s conflicts and sell them to criminals in other countries. Vasic said many members of these groups are relatives, but some are diaspora who now live in EU countries.

Smugglers also obtain weapons by stealing them from BiH army warehouses. At the beginning of January, thieves stole more than 600 blasting caps and other items from the warehouse at the Krčmarice barracks, near Banja Luka.

In order to raise security at warehouses, the BiH Ministry of Defence launched a series of projects in co-operation with several EU countries, and international organisations.

Under the projects, there will be 100 percent accounting for weapons and ammunition in the warehouses, Uma Sinanovic, defense ministry spokesperson, told SETimes.

McGuffie said the legislative framework in BiH regulating possession and carrying of weapons should be harmonised with international and EU standards.

"We welcome the steps that the BiH authorities have already taken in this regard, such as the initiation of the harmonisation activities of weapon laws, in the framework of the Small Arms and Light Weapons Strategy 2013-2016," McGuffie said.

The joint declaration to fight illicit firearms trafficking is the general framework for enhanced co-operation in this field. It was signed in Tirana in November 2012 by the EU commissioner for home affairs and the interior and security of the Western Balkan countries.

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The document underlines the commitment to jointly fight illicit firearms trafficking by "jointly mapping out the structure of the illicit firearms trade and improving the management of weapons stockpiles."

The declaration also underlines the importance of strengthening controls, improving the collection and exchange of information as well as operational police co-operation.

Finally, it recognises that the legislation in Western Balkan countries should, where it is not already the case, "be brought fully in line with EU and international standards."

What steps can be taken to curtail illegal weapons smuggling? Tell us what you think in the comments section.

This content was commissioned for SETimes.com.
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