Freedom Fighters or...

Truth in facts and testimonies

Daily Telegraph - London, February 16, 2002
DT Link

Rebels spend drug millions on guns
By Christian Jennings in Skopje
(Filed: 16/02/2002)

EXTREMIST Albanian rebels seeking to start a new round of conflict in the southern Balkans have been buying millions of pounds worth of weapons with the proceeds of heroin smuggling from Afghanistan to the streets of a dozen European capitals.

Senior drug trade analysts from the United Nations Drug Control Programme in Vienna and Western police officials say much of the heroin being sold in countries such as Austria, Germany and Switzerland is starting to come from multi-billion pound stocks of Afghan heroin in Central Asia.

Much of it is controlled by al-Qa'eda and the former Taliban regime.

European drug squad officers say Albanian and Kosovar Albanian dealers are ruthlessly trying to seize control of the European heroin market, worth up to ?12 billion a year, and have already taken over the trade in at least six European countries.

Western intelligence officials in Kosovo, Macedonia and Switzerland say Albanian gangs have used at least ?3 million of their heroin profits since October last year to buy weapons to re-equip rebels in Macedonia who gave up their weapons to Nato troops last autumn.

Afghanistan's interim leader, Hamid Karzai, has said he intends to replace opium growing in Afghanistan, which provides 90 per cent of the heroin on Europe's streets, with the cultivation of agricultural staples.

But Dr Thomas Pietschmann, a senior researcher with the UNDCP in Vienna, says bumper opium harvests in Afghanistan in 1999 and 2000 mean that stockpiles of heroin and opium worth between ?30 billion and ?50 billion are still held by Afghan, Pakistani and other groups.

"This is enough to keep every addict in Europe supplied for three years, even if another poppy is not grown in Afghanistan, and leave some over for the increasing market in Russia," he said.

Police chiefs are particularly worried about the arrival of a new brand of heroin from Afghanistan and Pakistan. It is 80 per cent pure, known as Heroin No 4, or "white heroin".

The UNDCP says recent large seizures of drugs heading into the European Union across the eastern boundary that stretches from Poland, Germany and Finland southwards to Turkey have all proved to be white heroin that has come from Afghanistan and Pakistan via Central Asia.

Police say Albanian criminal gangs have taken over the heroin trade along this border, muscling in on gangland turf formally controlled by Russians, Ukrainians, Czechs and Turks.

"The rebels in Macedonia, former KLA freedom fighters in Kosovo, and extremist Albanians in southern Serbia are all part of the network of Albanian and Kosovar Albanian families who control criminal networks in Switzerland, Austria, Germany and elsewhere," said a Western intelligence official in the province.

"Albanians account for up to 90 per cent of our problems with drugs and drugs dealings," said Thomas Koeppel, a senior Swiss police official involved in the war against drugs.

Norwegian police made the country's largest heroin haul last month, arresting three ex-guerrillas from the Kosovo Liberation Army.

The Drugs Investigative Committee in Bavaria announced that seven Albanians at the centre of a drug ring that spanned Europe had been arrested in a multi-national operation this month. Group members were captured with 120lb of heroin, which they were smuggling from the Balkans to Scandinavia, via Italy, Austria and Switzerland and it is estimated that they had already moved at least 200lb of the drug to other suppliers.

Albanian extremists from Macedonia and Kosovo are estimated to have used part of the profits to buy new weapons since last October. They have used arms dealers in Belgrade, Bulgaria, Macedonia and Bosnia, sometimes also Swiss and Serb middlemen.

Western defence intelligence officials say many of the weapons have already been smuggled into northern Macedonia and Albania.

Arms trade experts who have followed some of the deals say up to 20 SA-18 and SA-7 shoulder-held anti-aircraft missile systems are among the weapons.

The missiles could tip the balance of the dormant conflict in Macedonia by giving rebels the ability to shoot down the Mi-24 Hind helicopter gunships and Sukhoi Su-25 ground attack jets bought from the Ukraine by the Macedonian forces.

The rest of the weapons on the Albanians' shopping list include Chinese and Yugoslav 120mm and 82mm mortars, Yugoslav RBR M79 anti-tank rockets, large-calibre machine-guns, grenade launchers, up to 1,500 assault rifles, high-calibre M93 sniper rifles, and millions of rounds of ammunition.

Military experts believe that this is enough equipment to arm a force up to 2,000 strong.

Thousands of Albanian rebels from the self-styled National Liberation Army in Macedonia handed their weapons over to Nato troops last autumn after seven months of bitter fighting with Macedonian government forces.

The disarmament programme was part of an internationally sponsored peace deal designed to head off the prospect of a fifth Balkan war

Although rebel leaders from the former NLA have renounced violence, a hardline breakaway element calling itself the Albanian National Army has threatened more trouble this spring.