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Bosnian Gun Smuggling Ring Exposed

The Bosnian authorities have launched an investigation into the trafficking of weapons into Kosovo.
By Antonio Prlenda

Bosnian police have arrested six people in connection with a weapon smuggling gang which had been running guns from Bosnia-Herzegovina to Kosovo.


Two of the arrested suspects were Bosnian police officers and one worked for an intelligence agency. Newspaper reports say other high officials are implicated.


The case first came to light when KFOR peacekeeping troops and the UNMIK officials routinely checked a timber lorry outside a café in Kosovo on June 14. Beneath the planks of wood, they discovered hundreds of automatic weapons.


The arms haul comprised 318 assault rifles, 1008 mortar grenades, 512 hand grenades and other ammunition.


The lorry drivers managed to escape, but police officials in Bosnia said they left their documents and were identified as Nijaz Zivojevic and Fariz Lakovic - both Bosnian citizens. Western judges in Kosovo issued an arrest warrant and the two men were captured on September 21 in the eastern Bosnian town of Gorazde, close to where the borders of Bosnia, Serbia and Montenegro meet.


That same day, Bosnian federal police arrested Velid Hajdarevic, a member of the Bosniak intelligence Agency for Investigation and Documentation, AID.


The fourth suspect, Avdija Sabanovic, surrendered on September 24. Then, a day later, police arrested two of their own colleagues, police officers, Mirza Jamakovic and Adil Babic. The former is well-known as head of Department for Counter Diversionist Protection - a counter-terrorist agency.


UN spokesman in Sarajevo, Alun Roberts, said the interior ministry and other Federation institutions are investigating the case. The Federation supreme court ordered all six detainees to remain in custody for 30 days while the inquiry went ahead.


Police and other Federation authorities refuse to provide much more detail but Bosnia is already humming with wild speculation.


According to some local media, the smuggling ring involved senior Bosniak and Bosnian Serb officials, as well as some local business tycoons. The origin of the weapons is still unknown.


The newspaper Dnevni Avaz, which is close to police and intelligence officials, published a letter which Sabanovic wrote from prison to his brother Murat.


In the letter, Sabanovic claimed he was tricked into arms smuggling. He said he was approached by Jamakovic and Babic, who asked to use the basement of his country house in Rakovica, near Sarajevo, to store some police weapons. After he agreed and handed over the house keys, the two officers started ferrying guns back and forth, he said.


"Two months ago a lorry full of planks arrived," Sabanovic's letter said. "They said that Babic was coming to load something. And, indeed, he came in a police van full of packed bags. These were weapons meant for Kosovo."


Local and Western sources claimed the smuggling ring that was broken up was just the tip of an iceberg, part of a broader organisation through which Kosovo Albanians had received arms to equip 50,000 men.


Dnevni Avaz, quoting the same unidentified sources, claimed that other members of the arms smuggling racket included Srecko Djikic, a Bosnian Serb police official, and Senad Sahinpasic Saja, a Bosniak tycoon who is believed to have amassed his fortune through arms and food smuggling to the Gorazde area at the start of the war.


According to the newspaper, the smuggled weapons came from federal as well as Bosnian Serb army and police depots - something SFOR has said is out of the question as they inspect them on a regular basis. The paper said some drivers knew they had guns tucked beneath the cargoes of timber but others had no idea what they were carrying.


Antonio Prlenda is a journalist and military analyst for the Sarajevo daily Oslobodjenje. Nehat Islami, IWPR coordinating editor in Kosovo, contributed to the report.


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