PARIS – French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian has stated that “millions of light weapons circulating in the Western Balkans pose a great threat to European security” during today’s joint press conference with his German counterpart Heiko Maas.
At a working lunch organized in Paris as part of a meeting dedicated to the problem of small arms in the Western Balkans, attended by the ministers of foreign and internal affairs of the European Union and the region, plans for fight against organized crime and terrorism through the prevention of arms smuggling were discussed.
Le Drian has also added that the situation is unacceptable because “terrorists and criminals continue to kill people across Europe”, as well as that during the 2015 terrorist attacks in France, among other weapons, smuggled Serbian versions of Kalashnikovs were used.
“Europol estimates that between three and six million pieces of firearms are currently circulating around the countries of the Western Balkans. That is a huge number”, French minister said.
He has also added that France plans to finance equipment and identification software for the security forces and that Paris also plans to appoint an associate, who will be responsible for combat against of firearms smuggling at their embassy in Belgrade.
State Secretary of the Serbian Ministry of Internal Affairs Biljana Popović Ivković has said that the Serbia remains a reliable partner for cooperation and that it is clearly determined to deal with all challenges in the fight against organized crime and terrorism.
Foreign Minister of Macedonia Nikola Dimitrov has expressed his readiness for even closer cooperation with EU regarding security issues, including the control of illegal trade in small arms and light weapons.
“The road map for finding a sustainable solution to the illegal possession, abuse and trafficking of small arms and light weapons and ammunition in the Western Balkans by 2024, adopted at the Western Balkans Summit in London on July 10 (this year) is an excellent framework, complementary to already existing national and regional initiatives, to strengthen the control and non-proliferation of small arms and light weapons”, Dimitrov stated.
Apart from the host foreign ministers from France and Germany and Western Balkans’ representatives, Hungary’s Péter Szijjártó was the only foreign minister attending to conference from another EU member state.
“As an immediate neighbor of the Western Balkans, Hungary is fully aware of the difference between stability and uncertainty. And it also knows how important it is that the countries of the Western Balkans are able to curb dangerous currents and developments, and to all intents and purposes form a line of defense for the European Union”, Szijjártó stated.
In his opinion, best long-term instrument for maintaining the security and stability of the Western Balkans is to accelerate the Euro-Atlantic integration of the countries in the region.
“For precisely this reason we welcome the fact that Macedonia is already very close to becoming a member of NATO”, the Szijjártó said.
French and the regional media have been pointing out for some time that arms smuggling, especially from Serbia, is vastly over-represented in criminal investigations conducted.
Besides this, arms deliveries from the Balkans were revealed to routinely be diverted to Syria and into the hands of ISIS.