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Yugoslavia and the profits of doom (euobserver.

com, December 2011)

As the nation once called Yugoslavia collapsed into a deadly maelstrom through the 1990s, the
world largely stood mute in the face of unspeakable atrocities: ethnically-driven mass murders,
concentration camps and rape as a weapon of war. Conventional wisdom blamed the Balkan nations
for their own blood-soaked disintegration, which took more than 130,000 lives. The principal stand
against the horrors unfolding in the region came through the United Nations Security Council, whose
members banned weapons sales to the region. Now, nearly 20 years later, new facts are emerging that
cast a different light on that narrative, and show that other nations had a hand in stoking the deaths and
destruction that engulfed the Balkans. A three-year investigation by a Slovenian team of journalists
backed by reporters from six countries, who analysed thousands of documents obtained through
Freedom of Information requests, reveals that many countries including Russia, which had voted
for the arms embargo were actively involved in violating it. Many in these nations earned millions
of dollars selling arms and ammunition to the all the warring parties. Countries on multiple continents
were engaged in the arms trade or in financing it. Bulgaria, Poland, Ukraine, Romania and Russia
were all export countries for weapons to the conflict.
The headquarters for a huge logistics operation was in Vienna. Financial transactions were
executed by a Hungarian bank. Arms smugglers used companies registered in the off-shore haven of
Panama. The United Kingdom sent military equipment to former Yugoslav republics and provided
loans for arms purchases, as did Germany. "Such secret and illegal trade allowed some individuals to
become immensely wealthy," said Zdenko Cepic, a historian at the Institute for Contemporary History
in Ljubljana and an expert in the disintegration of Yugoslavia. The newly-released documents,
obtained from intelligence service files and criminal police records, provide specific details on an
arms-smuggling scandal that has frequently been the subject of rumor and misinformation in the
Balkans. While there was a widespread awareness of illegal arms shipments during the conflict, the
details remained a mystery. Arms dealers, government officials and others always denied wrongdoing,
and no one was held accountable in a post-war justice system that often bowed to political pressure.
Only now are the full facts of the countries and people involved in this illicit trade becoming public.
The investigation shows that Russian weapons in vast quantities were sold through many hidden
middlemen during the UN arms embargo. One of the most important of these go-betweens was a
Greek citizen, Konstantin Dafermos, who operated in Vienna during those years. Dafermos could not
be reached by 100Reporters for this story. Between 1991 and 1992, when the trafficking was in full
swing, some 20 ships loaded with weapons secretly arrived in the Slovene port of Koper, in violation
of the UN embargo banning the delivery of arms to the region. The ships were unloaded and the cargo
was quickly forwarded to battlefields in Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina. Those logistic
operations were conducted by military and civilian secret services in all three countries, according to
the documents. In addition, Italian, Albanian and Russian mafia participated in some actions. "The
port of Koper was a good opportunity to evade the arms embargo," added Cepic, the historian. "It was
not controlled by international inspections. Supervision of shipments has been done by Slovenia itself,
which allowed the import of weapons from other European countries." The UN arms embargo was
intended to keep weapons out of the region. But it came under intense criticism for essentially
cementing the arms advantage held by Serbia, while hindering the ability of its victims in Slovenia,
Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina to defend themselves against Serbian aggression. With no where
to turn, these nations sought weapons for their defense from a shadowy network of arms traders tied to
organised crime and from countries, including Russia, that had voted for the UN arms embargo. While
the weapons purchases were arguably necessary for the defense of Yugoslavia's former provinces, they
also fueled aggression and atrocities in their turn. The weapons Croatia purchased, for example,
allowed it to defend itself against Yugoslav People's Army offensives and to regain territory in 1995
that had been held by Serbian rebels. But Croat military leaders have also been convicted of murdering
ethnic Serbs and deporting thousands of them from Croatia, while both Serbs and Croats have been
implicated in atrocities against the Muslims of Bosnia. As a result, Cepic explained "this illegal arms
trade partially influenced the result of the wars in the former Yugoslavia." It also shaped these
countries long after the guns fell silent. The underworld ties put intelligence officers in these newly
independent countries on the wrong side of the law. They led to business negotiations being conducted
with suitcases of cash, bid up the price of arms and laid the groundwork for a pervasive climate of
corruption among public officials that persists today.