German expert Marcus Bleinroth: Western Balkans traffics weapons to the EU and everywhere

German expert Marcus Bleinroth: Western Balkans traffics weapons to the EU and everywhere

 Germany and France lead the Balkans initiative: A region without illegal weapons until 2024. German expert Marcus Bleinroth speaks to Deutsche Welle and says the Western Balkans traffics weapons to the EU and everywhere.

Mr Bleinroth, an initiative led by Germany and France and backed by EU aims the disarmament of the population by 2024 in the six Western Balkan (WB) countriesby small arms and light weapons, illegally held . Do you know of how much such weapons are illegally occupied by the civilian population in these six countries?

The figure varies from 4 to 6 million pieces. This information comes from the South East Europe and Eastern Europe Clearing House for the Control of Small and Light Weapons.

High figure, almost one third of the 18 million population of WB, seriously endangering security in the region and the EU. How security is perceived by Europeans, for example by Germans?

Germans think security in WB is a problem. They start from events and facts: In the terrorist attack in Paris at the Bataclan Concert Hall in 2015, the weapons used by terrorists originated from WB. Such an incident makes the population in Germany think that ... well, WB is the region from where the weapons come from, and then bring to mind events such as the wars in the former Yugoslavia and perceive security in WB as problematic. This perception that is general in EU countries for WB needs to be change. This prompted us to take the initiative to maximize the illicit trade in small arms and light weapons in WB so that this perception would no longer be an obstacle to WB's entry into the EU.

Albania, among the six BP countries, is a special case. Among other things, 20 years ago, in 1997, in the year of the rioting since the collapse of the pyramid schemes, warehouses of more than 50 years of arms were opened. Weapons fell into the hands of the civilian population. Thousands killed, thousands of trafficked weapons. Do you consider this situation?

Of course, that Albania is different from other WB countries. It has not been part of the former Yugoslavia and its civil wars. But from the stock of weapons that fell into the hands of the civilian population is still not clear, the amount is lacking, the amount that has not been collected. The Albanian government has told us that can be 200-300 thousand pieces. Other places of WB eg. Bosnia has 800 thousand, much more than Albania. Despite these figures, there is evidence that these weapons are being trafficked to EU countries and to countries where there is a conflict, for example. in Syria. Everywhere there is market for them. Our ambition is to stop traffic and the spread of weapons, to increase security in Albania and other partner countries of WB with the EU.

Are international donors willing to finance it; to support this whole initiative for security and life?

We have a lot of confidence in their support. First we are three countries: Germany France and Great Britain, many involved. Our project, our initiative, is headed by Germany and France but the UK has pledged to back strongly with financial funds. At the London Summit, last July, under the Berlin Process, the main topic was security at WB. Likewise, both the EU and the United States, the latter have been very active in helping the civilian population in Albania after the afflictions in 1997. But it is not just the search for funds, but also the need for expert. We will get experts from EU member states for training and draft procedural standards. Many states, EU members have expressed the desire to participate and engage. Their representatives have already been on the ground.

What are the biggest challenges for success: a WB without arms, a civilian population disarmed by illegally held weapons?

International donors, in the last 10 to 15 years, have been focused on providing ammunition and weapons, so that warehouses are safe and not stolen. At the same time, they are focused on arms counting and registration. Not to be stolen. This has already been achieved. Our first challenge is security at the border. Borders in Albania are not entirely safe. The traffic continues. We have no accurate information on how weapons are trafficked, because the technical capabilities are not everywhere. The situation is similar in other countries in the region as well. Another challenge is the law enforcement.

Traffickers have to face justice, to be punished for their criminal acts. The next challenge, perhaps the most difficult, is the change of weapon culture in WB countries. Unfortunately, weapons are part of the culture in the region. It is the mentality that the weapon adds pride to the Balkan man. But there is another reason: to feel safe and self-defense.

Law enforcement, the functioning of judicial reform will make the citizen trust in justice rather than weaponry. Keeping the gun out of men is also a gender issue: victims of men who have weapons are mostly women and girls, domestic violence is often expressed by firearms. And the last challenge is to collect arms, persuade the population to surrender their illegal arms, to make campaigns.

When will the work begin concretely?

We started in Bosnia to help the border authorities and police check and unleash illegal arms trafficking. In co-operation with SEESAC we are working to replicate it in other WB countries, including Albania. We have support from UNDOC (United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime), that is present in WB, funded by Germany to help law enforcement, train judges, prosecutors, customs officers against illegal arms trafficking. We are accelerating the efforts and tripling them. The aim is to the  disarmament of the citizens of WB, the maximum reduction in illicit small arms and light weapons by 2024.
German expert Marcus Bleinroth: Western Balkans traffics weapons to the EU and everywhere German expert Marcus Bleinroth: Western Balkans traffics weapons to the EU and everywhere Tuesday, October 23, 2018 Rating: 5
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