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Tuesday, November 1, 2011
Bosnian Arms: UN Wartime Embargo Defied, Ignored By Multiple Nations
Special to INTELWIRE
Someone wrote at the top of the report: "The message to the operator on duty: do not read this story. And if you see anything accidentally forget it. Personally hand over this message to the President. "
What followed was a message from Bosnian deputy defense minister Hasan Cengic to President Alija Izetbegovic, undated but likely written some time around the fall of 1992.
"Mr. President, I send you a report on what has been done with the munitions delivered by boat in the last shipment."
The message gave details of funds, arms and ammunition smuggled into the country for use by "the Army of Bosnia and Herzegovina in Foca and Gorazde. ... This commodity and one that will be loaded tomorrow, God willing, it is also destined for Foca and Gorazde, but it is intended primarily for the opening of Sarajevo and Mostar and the Neretva Valley”.
Newly available documents reveal that the provisioning of the Army of Bosnia in defiance of a UN arms embargo was coordinated through the official policy of neighboring countries and the international community. The policy was supported by a number of governments in Europe and beyond, through tacit consent or secret aid.
The author of the 1992 message for the President specified which weapons and ammunition would be transported to which cities and describes the purpose of the arms delivery. The signature reads: "Salam, Hassan".
Numerous clues remain in the documents, which show the money, names, places, dates on which the Army of BiH was armed and equipped during the bloody 1990s civil war in Bosnia and Herzegovina.
In one document, the specifications for the procurement of arms were printed on hotel bills in Istanbul.
In another, a hotel invoice from Vienna stated that then-Bosnian deputy defense minister Hasan Cengic was a guest "from the Sudanese Embassy" in Zagreb.
A third document was an official memorandum from Presidency of Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina to Government of the Republic of Slovenia.
Interest in the story of how Bosnia was armed during the war has been renewed by the impending war crimes trial of Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic and the prospect of the imminent release from prison of Fikret Abdic, the Bosnian Muslim politician who was elected president of Bosnia in 1990 but stepped down for reasons unknown, allowing Alija Izetbegovic, the second-place finisher, to take office.
FROM CELJE TO VISOKO
In 1992, representatives of the Bosnian government bought arms directly from the Slovenian government on the basis of two agreements on military assistance, but also used Slovenian airports and ports to get the weapons into the country.
With the knowledge and help of the Slovenian authorities, weapons were transported by road across the territory of the Republic of Slovenia, under the label of “humanitarian assistance.”
One of the routes went toward Slovenian town of Celje, then to the port city of Koper, where the goods were loaded onto a ferry, then transported to the Croatian port of Pula, where it was loaded with the goods of aid groups.
From there, the weapons travelled to Split, Croatia, then finally unloaded in Ploce, where it was transported to the warehouse of a humanitarian organization in Metkovic, then transferred by truck across the Bosnian border to Jablanica, where it was finally transported by truck to Visoko.
Arms were not delivered only to Visoko: documents show that Zelko Knez, current military advisor to the Croatian member of BH Presidency Zeljko Komsic, in October 1992 in Zagreb received 400,000 marks from Hasan Cengic in October 1992 for the cost of procurement of weapons for the Tuzla region in Bosnia.
The value of the weapons to Tuzla exceeded the amount of 1 million DM on this occasion. The prices for the weapons were personally approved by Izetbegovic.
But this is just one example. An international investigation reconstructed a trail of money and weapons through Germany, Austria, Slovenia and Croatia to internal delivery in Bosnia, with contacts at all levels of headquarters and units.
One document written in Arabic, a memorandum of the Bosnian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, was signed by Dr. Haris Silajdzic on October 2, 1992.
Silajdzic, who in 2010 completed a term as the Bosnian member of the federation's presidency, stated that there were "signed contracts for the procurement of weapons, that we need for our emergency rescue, in the amount of $18 million and that the goods will be received in a Croatian port and paid after receipt and control."
The shipment of the weapons, which originated with the Slovenian government, was facilitated by "the Croatian Ministry of Finance and Ministry of Defense, which was agreed with the Government of BiH", according to a document attributed to the "Committee of Muslims in Croatia to help Muslims in Bosnia."
WHO REPRESENTS BOSNIA?
Disputes within the government, going all the way to the presidency, about who should represent Bosnia in its contacts with the Slovenian government directly influenced the flow of money and supplies of arms.
In May 1992, Hasan Cengic held a meeting with the President of Slovenia, Milan Kucan, and the Slovenian Ministers for Defence, Janez Jansa, and Interior, Igor Bavcar. At the time, Cengic was secretary of the SDA, the ruling political party.
In advance of the meeting, an order for weapons was sent from Sarajevo to Ljubljana, Slovenia, on May 29, 1992, from someone in the office of Chairman of the Presidency of Bosnia and Herzegovina to the Slovenian defense minister.
The order requested automatic rifles, ammunition, anti-tank missiles and the like. Specifications were provided by a staff member of Committee of Muslims in Croatia to help Muslims in Bosnia and approved by Alija Izetbegovic.
Upon Izetbegovic's approval, the equipment was certified as being worth 1.85 million DM and would be paid for as soon as possible. A Bosnian helicopter based on an airstrip in Slovenia was offered as collateral.
ABDIC STILL SILENT
In June 1992, Slovenia began training 1,000 members of the Bosnian territorial defence force in the forests of Kocevski Rog. Most of the "recruits" on the Slovenian training course were from the Cazinska Krajina region of Bosnia and members of the Bosnian diaspora.
Starting in August of 1992, training was conducted in Svetli Potok, Slovenia, on the edge of Kocevje. The training was carried out by specially trained military members, the Slovenian military secret service and others.
A recent book by Matej Surc and Blaz Zgaga claimed "Bosniak (Bosnian Muslim) and Croatian nationals were trained by seasoned fighters from the Croatian battlefields. Fikret Abdic, a former member of the Presidency of BiH, visited the volunteers. The Government of Slovenia secured uniforms of East German origin, weapons, and ammunition and explosive devices for two groups of Bosnian volunteers. During the training of the other group, the Slovenian authorities, under international pressure, ordered that the volunteers had to leave the territory of Slovenia within 24 hours. The Slovenian Ministry of Defence asked Governement of BiH to pay some 1.2 million German marks for this training."
According to available documents, an agreement was signed on August 18, 1992,in Ljubljana between the Republic of Slovenia and the Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina.
The agreement was signed by Fikret Abdic, as an authorized representative of the Presidency of the Republic of Bosnia and Janez Jansa, the Minister of Defence of the Republic of Slovenia. The agreement put a Bosnian helicopter up as collateral.
In September of 1992 there was a final meeting between Hasan Cengic and Jansa. Jusuf Pusina, then Minister of the Interior, and Bakir Alispahic, then Chief of the Center of Security Services for Sarajevo, were also present.
In a statement to reporters, Cengic said he tried to explain to Jansa that the Abdic policy was contrary to the policy of the Bosnian government, and that Abdic (who led an armed faction during the war) used weapons from Slovenia to equip his troops for a fratricidal war, but Jansa rejected his arguments and asked Cengić to pay Abdic's account. Cengic said he asked for additional documentation.
Sources close to Abdic, who is still in prison, declined to discuss these claims.
FROM KHARTOUM TO MARIBOR
Conflicts within the Slovenian authorities, including the conflict between Jansa and Cengic, led to a new scandal.
Newly available documents reveal the way of money and weapons from distant countries such as Sudan were transported moved to Slovenia.
In faxed messages sent in September 1992, a suspected arms broker reported to Dr. Fatih Hassanein that air lift between Khartoum and Maribor moved early on 15th September 1992.
Hassanein was head of the Third World Relief Agency, a purported charity that helped funnel millions of dollars from Saudi donors to the Bosnian government during the war. TWRA was also reportedly linked to Al Qaeda as a financial front. The agency's financial records indicate money was transferred to and from an associate of Osama bin Laden during the wartime period.
Records show funds from TWRA were used to arm the Bosnian military and were used to facilitate the travel of mujahideen fighters from abroad to fight on behalf of Bosnian Muslims. Several of the Bosnian mujahideen were connected to Al Qaeda.
A number of American military veterans were recruited to train and fight with the Bosnian mujahideen in program linked to Al Qaeda and funded by TWRA. The details of that program were first reported in Jihad Joe: Americans Who Go to War in the Name of Islam.
The arms broker requested that three containers weighing a total of 50 tons be made ready for shipping. The weapons were flown from Sudan to Maribor airport in Slovenia and then transported by helicopter to central Bosnia.
This operation was stopped after the beginning of the conflict between the Bosnian and Croatian armies. In January 1993, transport stopped altogether because of the war breaking out in central Bosnia.
On July 21, 1993 Slovenia discovered 120 tons of weapons at the airport in Maribor, labeled as humanitarian aid and awaiting transport to Bosnia. The shipment was stopped, but documentation of the incident helped expose the arms traffic.
REQUEST TO IRAN WAS REJECTED
The Hague tribunal convened for the Radovan Karadzic trial concluded that "the question of whether different countries were involved in smuggling weapons or were not familiar with this issue on which to decide what should or needs to be considered in this case."
But officials in May 2011 rejected a request to issue binding orders and subpoenas to Iran, one of the major suppliers of weapons to Bosnia during the war, because the information was judged irrelevant. Iranian authorities, in response to an initial query, said that "the alleged documents, if they ever existed, came from the distant past" and would require a length search.
Karadzic's defense team demanded Iranian documents (contracts and a record of arms deliveries) related to an alleged agreement between the Iranian government agencies and arms dealers, who operated under the name Matimco SPRL, for the sale and delivery of weapons to Pula, Croatia, from December 1994 until April 1995 .
Karadzic does not claim the documents contained any information about how ammunition was allegedly smuggled from Croatia to Bosnia, and specifically to Srebrenica, where Bosnian Muslims were massacred by Bosnian Serb forces in 1995. Karadzic is under indictment for that crime.
The majority of judges concluded that they continue to believe that only the Srebrenica shipments are relevant to Karadzic's case. They ruled that "the waybills for cargo from the Iranian aircraft apparently landed in Croatia between 1992 and 1994 were too much in terms of time away from the period relevant to this case."
Iranian officials have never wanted to speak publicly about the deliveries of weapons for the Army of Bosnia and Herzegovina, explaining that it was "the help which they felt as an obligation because of the suffering of Muslims in Bosnia," and not for profit.
There is little historical data on Iranian shipments, only estimates. As previously revealed by INTELWIRE, in September 1992, the Croatian government in Zagreb, at the request of the United States, seized an Iranian plane carrying weapons for Bosnia which had landed in Zagreb.
In the spring of 1994 President Bill Clinton's administration gave a "green light" to Croatia for Iranian weapons and other supplies to be shipped to the Army of BiH and the HVO, meaning that USA no longer objected to these delivery of arms to Bosnia.
Views expressed on INTELWIRE are those of the author alone.
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