Balkan countries co-operating to stop weapons trafficking


New initiatives are in place to slow the flow of illegal weapons.

By Klaudija Lutovska for Southeast European Times in Skopje -- 30/06/14


Balkan countries seek ways to address weapons trade and trafficking. [Tomislav Georgiev/SETimes]

Balkan countries are co-operating to slow weapons trafficking as the region becomes a final destination for illegal weapons in addition to being a transit route to European and other markets, experts said.

Police officials announced they will form a regional law enforcement network this year with the support of the EU to combat illegal weapons trafficking.

"The idea is for the network to be the backbone of regional co-operation and communicate later on with the [existing] European network, and that way contribute to the further integration of our region in the European trends," Ivan Zverzhanovski, co-ordinator of the South Eastern and Eastern Europe Clearinghouse for the Control of Small Arms and Light Weapons, said.

Experts said such co-operation is necessary because the illegal trafficking of weapons has overwhelmed states' abilities to independently deal with the problem. Police operations in Albania to cut off trafficking channels to Kosovo revealed the increasing presence of heavy weapons including anti-tank and anti-personnel mines in the confiscated weapons arsenals in Has and Peskopeia.

"There are millions of pieces of illegal weapons in the Balkans, of which a good number increasingly reach the Western European markets," Dusko Stojanovski, criminology professor at the American University College in Skopje, told SETimes.

Stojanovski said co-operation includes the exchange of operational information and co-ordinated surveillance of organised crime groups that transport weapons. Regional border authorities co-operate with other law-enforcement agencies -- including defence ministries -- and have formed joint surveillance and investigation teams, said Lavdrim Veliu, deputy director of the Macedonia customs office.

"We also regulated the protocol for [joint] intervention by signing a memorandum of co-operation," Veliu told SETimes.

Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH), Kosovo, Macedonia and Serbia formed a weapons trafficking expert group last February. Police representatives from Croatia, Bulgaria and Denmark were also present and pledged assistance.

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"Denmark will assist the Balkans' law enforcement by sharing its experiences and ideas to suppress illegal weapons [trafficking]," said Ole Drost, representative of the Danish police.

Experts said the group was formed to meet regularly and exchange experiences and ideas in order to uncover and effectively disrupt illegal trafficking routes.

"A high degree of strategic action between the regional countries is very much needed," said Mitko Cavkov, director for the Macedonia Bureau for State Security.

What can the Balkan countries do to more effectively combat weapons trafficking? Share your opinion in the comments section.

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