High-level military and civilian officials of
the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (FRY) have clearly known about,
and therefore been implicitly involved in, a massive arms-for-cash
trade with Iraq that has continued in the last two years, in
violation of international agreements and explicit promises to
American and European authorities. The assistance to Iraq, illegal
under UN sanctions imposed in 1990 , could end up being used against
allied forces should military action be launched against Iraq .
The extent of this Yugo-Iraqi axis is the subject of a detailed
report, Arming Saddam: The Yugoslav Connection, from the non-profit
international research and advocacy organisation, The International
Crisis Group (ICG).
By asserting the large-scale sale of weapons to Saddam Hussein
could not, and apparently did not, proceed without the approval of
top military brass and key figures in the FRY's civilian leadership,
the ICG report, to be released tomorrow, is likely to cause tumult
on Capitol Hill and in European capitals. One outcome might be a
serious re-evaluation of Western policy towards Yugoslavia, which
involves hundreds of million of dollars in aid to the purportedly
reformist post-Milosevic government, as well as fast-track efforts
to ease the country back into the international community. The
country, a federation of Serbia and Montenegro, is struggling to
recover from war and sanctions.
The ICG report makes clear the illicit Yugoslav arms trade with
Iraq is not the result of unauthorised, 'rogue' operations, as
previously claimed by FRY leaders, but a steady pipeline that has
generated hundreds of millions, perhaps billions, of dollars for
state-run and private companies with ties to political parties and
military and civilian leaders -- monies believed to have largely
migrated to illegal offshore bank accounts.
The report, a final draft of which was obtained by the Sunday
Herald, is based on an analysis of internal Yugoslav government
documents, local and inter national news reports, scholarly and
technical journals and ICG's extensive interviews with high-ranking
Yugoslav government and military officials, defence experts,
munitions industry figures and sources within the US government and
ICG was founded in 1995 after concerns over an inadequate
international response to crises in Rwanda, the Balkans and
elsewhere. The report's main author is James Lyon, director of the
ICG's Serbia Project, who has a PhD in Balkan history and is known
for his high-level contacts . Shortly after the report was filed, he
left the region over concerns for his safety.
The report exposes a rift between the Yugoslav leadership and the
country's foreign ministry, which repeatedly warned the FRY
government about the illegality of the arms trade to Iraq. Each time
such warnings were issued, says the report, officials made cosmetic
changes, but the trade continued unabated.
The report concludes that despite recent statements of disavowal
from top officials, including the Yugoslav president and Serbian
premier, internal documents indicate they must have had prior
knowledge of the Iraqi trade. 'Top Yugoslav authorities, including
President Kostunica ... knew about the sales, some of them at least
as early as July of 2001, and did nothing to halt them.'
The report raises the question of the continuing influence of the
Yugoslav old guard in the new government. The report explores the
transfer not only of weapons and technology from such entities as
Jugoimport-SDPR, (a state- controlled company whose role in sending
jet engines and spare parts to Iraq was revealed when international
peacekeeping troops in Bosnia seized incriminating documents in
October) but also from the stocks of the Yugoslav military. It lays
out the procedures and approvals required for the goods and
personnel to move from their origin via third countries (chiefly
Syria) to Iraq, and focuses on Velimir Radojevic, federal defence
'It is ... inconceivable that Radojevic -- on the basis of his
position as defence minister, board member of Jugoimport-SPDR, and
his close ties inside the military -- was unaware of the ongoing
plunder of VJ [Yugoslav Army] stocks, the arms sales to Iraq, the
use of VJ ports, or the travel of VJ officers and military
scientists to Iraq. It is inconceivable that he did not inform the
federal president, interior minister, foreign minister, Army chief
of staff and KOS [military counter- intelligence] of these
It notes that 'it is inconceivable' that the chief of the KOS,
General Aco Tomic, did not know about the weapons sales or inform
Kostunica or other key officials 'given the size and sophistication
of his intelligence network, as well as his legal responsibility to
sign off on weapons exports'.
ICG cites high-level sources in the Democratic Opposition of
Serbia, the ruling government coalition, as affirming that the
deliberately mislabled cargoes were escorted to the Montenegrin
ports of Bar and Tivat by the Serbian, Montenegrin and Yugoslav
federal interior ministries.
Although the federal government in October fired key officials in
the wake of the Jugoimport revelations, the report lays out the
contradictory statements by top leaders and the connections of those
men and their parties to people involved with the arms trade. It
notes that the general who headed Jugoimport was not fired, but
reassigned as a special advisor to the man who replaced him, until
US pressure forced his departure. It notes obstructionism by members
of a government-appointed commission appointed to look into the
allegations -- a body that includes Radojevic, one of those whose
approval would have been necessary .
The report spells out some of the potential consequences of
Yugo-Iraqi arms trade. 'Over the past two years, the Federal
Republic of Yugoslavia appears to have sold cruise and ballistic
missile and pilotless vehicle technology to Iraq. Chemical and
biological weapons and possibly their manufacturing technology and
equipment also appear to have been sold. Yugoslavia appears to have
sold Iraq anti-aircraft systems, artillery, munitions, and
constructed underground bunker complexes inside Iraq. The
combination of technologies provided by Yugoslavia could enable the
Iraqi government to create an inexpensive cruise missile with
weapons of mass destruction.'
If true, Yugoslavia would have been one of Iraq's key suppliers
of weaponry and human assistance, including the building and
revamping of military facilities. Among the examples of Iraq
dealings described in the report:
lCites 'reliable sources with connections to Kostunica's cabinet'
and military counter-intelligence as telling ICG that, beyond the
sale to Iraq within the past two years of 'biological and chemical
equipment', as reported in the Belgrade press, chemical weapons have
been sold. Bilateral co-operation in this area dates to the 1980s,
when Yugoslavia assisted Iraq in building a chemical manufacturing
compound. Other sources allege the manufacture, during the 1999 Nato
bombing campaign, of the gas sarin.
lAsserts that a delegation from the Democratic Party of Serbia
(DSS), the political organisation of federal President Kostunica,
attended a conference in Baghdad in November 2001 'intended to
create a counterweight to the US and globalisation'. The head of the
delegation is a key figure in a web of trading companies implicated
in the arms traffic, a consortium owned by a man who is also a key
financier of the DSS.
lCites a Yugoslav foreign ministry letter noting that as of
January this year, Yugoslavia had construction contracts with Iraq,
mostly for bunkers and other defense-related purposes, worth in
excess of $120 million.
lQuotes a 'technical source' in Belgrade asserting that Yugoslav
scientists 'have -- at the very least -- developed a model of a
turbojet engine with a diameter that could fit in a cruise missile'.
ICG paints a picture of almost unavoidable temptation, with
politicians and military figures who are mortal enemies dividing the
spoils of a spectacularly lucrative opportunity. Most of the
companies involved in such weapons production are aligned with
competing political parties and politicians and it is nearly
impossible to track the ultimate recipients of the profits .
Jugoimport, despite tremendous sales volume, claimed 2001 profits
of only two million dinars (roughly $33,000). According to a January
2002 foreign ministry letter, one company, EnergoProjekt, may alone
have had over $120m in construction contracts with Iraq.
Officials at the Yugoslav foreign ministry and the US Embassy in
Belgrade are known to have viewed advance copies of the ICG
document. Embassy officials, who were last week hosting a delegation
of US arms investigators looking into the trading issue, would not
comment, nor would foreign ministry officials.
Zoran Zivkovic, federal interior minister, a member of the
federal inquiry panel on the arms transfers -- who was a Jugoimport
board member -- declined to respond , but questioned the motivations
of ICG, which is known to be a tough critic of the pace of reforms
in the country.
'I don't care about their opinion, especially given what I know
about their associates in Yugoslavia,' Zivkovic said.
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