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IN BALKANS, ARMS FOR DRUGS


The International Herald Tribune
Paris, June 6,
1994,
By Barry James

Albanian groups in Macedonia and Kosovo province in Serbia are trading heroin for large quantities of weapons for use in a brewing conflict in Kosovo, according to a report to be published monday by a Paris-based narcotics-monitoring group.

In recent months, significant quantities of heroin have been seized in Switzerland, Germany, Italy and Greece from traffickers based in Kosovo's capital, Pristina, as well as the Macedonian capital, Skopje, and the northern Albanian town of Skodra, the report said.

Italian policemen recently dismantled a major Italian-Macedonian connection, seizing 40 kilograms of heroin shipped via the Balkans, it said.

It said Albanian traffickers were supplied with heroin and weapons by Mafia-like groups in Georgia and Armenia. The Albanians then pay for the supplies by reselling the heroin in the west. The report said the Albanian dealers also traded directly with Russian soldiers for weapons in exchange for heroin.

The report was drawn up by the "Observatire Geopolitique Des Drogues", which said it conducted an investigation lasting nearly a year. The organization carries out research on behalf of the European Commission in Brussels, as well as publishing and an annual survey of the narcotics trade.

Albanian Muslims from a restive minority in independent Macedonia but make up the bulk of the population in Kosovo...

Kosovo, on the southern frontier of Serbia, is a potential flash point because of conflicting Serbian and Albanian nationalism and religion. Although in the minority, the Serbs consider the province part of Serbia. The drug report said that a large influx of weapons "is fueling geopolitical hopes and fears," and adding to the power of Albanian Mafia Godfathers. Albanian leaders, it added, "are inherently in favour of an uprising in Kosovo."

In Macedonia, about 2,000 U.S. troops are stationed under United Nations mandate.

In western Europe, particularly in Germany, the Albanian traffickers compete with Turkish criminals, the report said. They are not so well known to the police and have forged close links with Georgians and Armenians, who distrust the Turks.

Abkhazi separatists in northern Georgia have set up yet another connection for arms and narcotics traffic toward the Balkans, according to the monitoring organization.

The report said Albanian mafiosi, who wear expensive suits and who travel ostentatiously in mercedes cars accompanied by bodyguards, have taken over a floor of one of Skopje's best hotels. It said a suspected heroin refinery was in operation near the town of Kumanovo in Macedonia.


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