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Bosnia Serb Republic Looking to Sell Weapons

A year after a scandal in the Bosnia Serb Republic involving the illegal sale of arms to Iraq and other embargoed countries, the republic is looking to sell arms again, this time legally.

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Tanks, canons and anti-aircraft missiles for sale in the former Yugoslavia.

Call it a garage sale -- of sorts. Pressed by financial constraints and the need to meet the disarmament protocols established in 1996, the Bosnia Serb Republic, also known as the Republic of Srpska, is hoping to find a buyer for the last vestiges of its once impressive military arsenal, the holdover from previous times of conflict.

Up for sale: about 120 tanks and armored vehicles, 100 howitzers and canons, 90 anti-aircraft missiles, 42,000 infantry weapons and a million mines. According to a government official, they are hoping to find a buyer to take the entire lot off their hands for one lump sum. If they don't find a customer by the end of the year, the arms will be destroyed.

Weapons in the wrong hands

But NATO and other international organizations are likely to monitor the process closely following a scandal last year, which involved the illegal sale of weapons to several countries placed under embargo by the international community, including Iraq, Burma and Liberia.

NATO reprimanded the Bosnia Serb Republic, the Serbian half of Bosnia Herzegovina, as well as the rest of former Yugoslavia after it became known that the Serbian state-owned company Jugoimport had reburbished jet engines and provided support services to Iraq. And a raid of the Bosnia Serb Republic offices of the weapons manufacturer Orao produced documents detailing the refurbishment of MiG21 and MiG23 planes, also destined for Iraq.

Slobodan Milosevic cultivated close ties with Iraq in the past, and since there is money to be made, defense industry executives have been slow to end the relationship -- and the profits.

What's more, Belgrade admitted that it had sold a shipment of arms to Liberia, while the Bosnia Serb Republic's Prime Minister, Mladen Ivanic, said his officials had mistakenly started negotiations to sell weapons to Burma -- they didn't realize it was placed under embargo -- but abandoned the negotiations once they realized their mistakes.

The series of missteps revealed the unstable nature of the arms industry in the region. Though democratically elected governments have made strides towards establishing legitimacy, they have been unable to reign in the defense industry, which enjoys much freedom and little civilian oversight.

Hard times force sale of remaining arsenal

But the current arms sale in the Bosnia Serb Republic is meant to be entirely transparent -- and legal. Disarmament criteria are forcing the republic to part with its arsenal, and, at times of extreme budgetary crisis, the government is hoping to turn a profit in the process.

"It is essential to reduce the amount of weapons and military equipment and the number of weapons stores because we need to be more efficient and reduce the cost of the army," Branko Trkulja, a spokesperson for the Ministry of Defense, told Deutsche Welle. "The profits from the sale will be used to improve the quality of life of our soldiers."

The number of remaining soldiers is dwindling. There are only 6,600 left in active service. Yet they are short of most supplies. At the federal level of Bosnia Herzegovina, the situation is even worse, with electricity, water and telephone service cut off to many of the barracks because the bills have not been paid. Finding someone to take buy up all the weapons won't be easy. The buyer will have to be a registered arms dealer and produce an end user certificate, stating the final destination of the weapons. Perhaps most daunting for the potential customer, the international community will be watching exactly where the weapons end up.

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