The retired security expert and university professor, Prof. Dr. Ivan Babanovski talks about the connection between the illegal arms trade and organized crime in the country and the region. The conversation with Prof. Babanovski took place on December 28, 2021, as part of the activities within the CIVIL project “Past, present and future of arms control in the Republic of Northern Macedonia” with the support of the Global Initiative Against Transnational Organized Crime and the Resilience Fund.
Asked about the situation with the illegal arms trade, prof. Babanovski simply said: “A gross market! This is a gross market. You know how a gross market works, we have no insight into what is being sold in this place. I will give you three examples.”
Tell us how do the weapons enter here, who buys it, who sells it, how and where does it move?
BABANOVSKI: First of all, in March 1997, in 51 seconds, the state of the Republic of Albania disintegrated and 600,000 Kalashnikovs were taken out of military warehouses, and 3,000 tons of classic TNT explosive were exported to Iraq by a certain Bulgarian company when Saddam Hussein was in power. Three thousand tons were exported, but how many thousands of tons were blown up and looted around the world is not known.
What is the situation here in our country?
BABANOVSKI: Nobody knows how many short barrels (pistols) and rocket launchers are sold through our field.
Second, on November 6th, 1991, Arkan came to Skopje [Zeljko Raznatovic – leader of the paramilitary formation “Serbian Volunteer Guard”, known for pogroms and war crimes in the 90s] and brought two trucks of weapons. He was a guest of the then Minister of Interior, Jordan Mijalkov. I was his advisor back then. At that time I was not in that company, I was not sitting with them at the Holiday Inn Hotel, back then known as Hotel Grand, I was in the Netherlands for 11 days, visiting a big company called Terra Nigra.
Where are those weapons today, after so many years?
BABANOVSKI: Arkan brought the weapon, he was a guest of Done [Tanevski], the manager of “Makedonijaturist”, who then appropriated Holiday Inn.
Mijalkov, Done, Gjorgje Naumov, the Minister of Justice and Rade Perisic, who was in an extramarital affair with Yeltsin’s sister [former Russian President Boris Yeltsin], and he and Arkan brought the weapons here. Those weapons ended up on Pelister under the control of Crnomarov [then head of the SIA-Bitola, Dimitar Crnomarov], and to date, no one has given an answer to what happened.
Were there any weapons collection actions at the time?
BABANOVSKI: That action was called “Amber Fox”, it was named by UNPROFOR, and I was joking that they succeeded in this area where if you stick your hand in someone`s pocket at the Bit-Pazar you`ll certainly find a piece of weapon.
Why Bit-Pazar, are you alluding on a national basis?
BABANOVSKI: No, it`s just a phrase to me, otherwise, the biggest smugglers of weapons are not the Albanians as it is thought, there are several Macedonians who function depending on which party is in power.
How does the state prevent that?
BABANOVSKI: The weapons that were transferred to Pelister, I found out through a close associate of mine that some police structures were involved in the smuggling of those weapons, and in Kravari, in an operation, 42 boxes of long-barreled ammunition (for Kalashnikovs) were recorded, many of them for short-barreled (pistols), RPGs, heavy machine guns…
What were they intended for, the paramilitary or smuggling?
BABANOVSKI: A part of the weapons, were taken to Skopje by a man with his son from the village Kravari (Bitola), in that action my students from the then State Security Service (SSS) were involved, and they followed him to the toll point at the lake “Mladost” (Veles) where they operated and stopped him while were recording the whole action with cameras, and they took away all the arsenal of weapons that was inside the van, and his son would drive ahead in a Mercedes clearing his way. Where there were police patrols, he would stop to ask them something, while his father with the van would pass by and so everything was well coordinated.
I asked him, I do not want to name him now, he was my student at the time, head of SSS – Bitola, ‘who taught you like this, when you went all the way from Kravari to Skopje why did you arrest them on the toll ramp at Lake “Mladost”, why did not you wait for him to take the weapon to the place and arrest those people as well?`He says, `you know, professor…`. I said `No, no, this tells me that you were also involved in that action.`
Could we say that there is a weapons mafia here in Macedonia today?
BABANOVSKI: To conclude, after sentencing the culprit to 11 years and his son to 5 years in prison, I did him some favors to reach out to the one who was going to receive the weapons. He told me – professor, you are very smart, you are a professional, but if I tell you, both my head and the heads in my family will be rolling.
Transcript and text processing: Dehran Muratov
Camera: Atanas Petrovski
Video editing: Arian Mehmeti
Translation: Natasha Cvetkovska
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