SKOPJE, Macedonia, Oct. 30 (UPI) -- In a desperate bid to fend off sanctions, the Bosnian government Tuesday banned all trade in arms and munitions after the U.S. State Department documented a local Serb-owned company for selling spare parts and maintenance for military aircraft to Iraq via Yugoslav shell companies.
Heads rolled. In Republika Srpska, the Serb component of Bosnia-Herzegovina, both the Defense Minister Slobodan Bilic and army Chief of Staff Novica Simic resigned. Another casualty was Milan Prica, the general director of the Orao Aircraft Institute of Bijeljina. On the Yugoslav side, Jugoimport chief Gen. Jovan Cekovic and federal Deputy Defense Minister Ivan Djokic stood down.
Bosnia's is the latest in a series of embarrassing disclosures in practically every country of the former eastern bloc, including European Union accession candidates. With the crumbling of the Warsaw Pact and the regional economy, many former military and secret service operators resorted to selling weapons and martial expertise to states such as Iraq, terrorist outfits and organized crime. The confluence -- and, lately, convergence -- of these interests is threatening Europe's stability.
Last week, the Polish Rzeczpospolita newspaper accused the Military Information services of illicit arms sales between 1992-96 through both private and state-run entities. The weapons were plundered from the Polish army and sold at half price to Croatia and Somalia, both under U.N. arms embargo.
Deals were struck with the emerging international operations of the Russian mafia. Middlemen from designated terrorist groups and Latvian state officials were involved. Breaching Poland's democratic veneer, the Polish Ministry of Defense threatened to sue the paper for disclosing state secrets.
Police in Lodz are still investigating the disappearance of 4 Arrow anti-aircraft missiles from a train transporting arms from a factory to the port of Gdansk, to be exported. The private security escort claim innocence.
The Czech Military Intelligence Services, known as VZS, has long been embroiled in serial scandals. The Czech defense attaché to India, Miroslav Kvasnak, was recently fired for disobeying explicit orders from the minister of defense. According to Jane's, Kvasnak headed URNA -- the elite anti-terrorist unit of the Czech National Police. He was sacked in 1995 for selling Semtex, the notorious Czech plastic explosive, as well as weapons and munitions to organized crime gangs.
In late August, the Czechs arrested arms traffickers, members of an international ring, for selling Russian weapons -- including, tanks, fighter planes, naval vessels, long-range rockets, and missile platforms -- to Iraq. The operation lasted three years and was conducted from Prague.
According to the Wall Street Journal, the Czech intelligence services halted the sale of $300 million worth of the Tamara radar systems to Iraq in 1997. Czech firms, such as Agroplast, a leading waste processing company, have been openly accused of weapons smuggling.
The Guardian tracked in February a delivery of missiles and guidance systems from the Czech Republic through Syria to Iraq.
German go-betweens operate in the Baltic countries. In May, a sale of more than two pounds of the radioactive element cesium-137 was thwarted in Vilnius, Lithuania. The substance was sold to groups bent on producing a "dirty bomb," U.S. officials told the Guardian.
John Deutsch testified in Congress in 1996, when he was CIA chief, about previous cases in Lithuania involving 2 tons of radioactive wolfram and 220 pounds of uranium-238.
Still, the epicenters of the illicit trade in weapons are in the Balkans, in Russia, and in the former Soviet republics. Here, domestic firms intermesh with Western intermediaries, criminals, rebels groups and state officials to engender a pernicious, ubiquitous and malignant web of smuggling and corruption.
According to the Center for Public Integrity and the Western media, over the past decade, renegade Russian army officers have sold weapons to every criminal and terrorist organization in the world -- from the Irish Republican Army to al Qaida -- and to states such as Liberia to Libya.
They are protected by well-connected, bribe-paying, arms dealers and high-level functionaries in every branch of government. They launder the proceeds through Russian oil multinationals, Cypriot, Balkan, and Lebanese banks, and Asian, Swiss, Austrian, and British trading conglomerates -- all obscurely owned and managed.
Part 2 of this analysis will appear Thursday. Send your comments to: [email protected]