Murphy's Law: August 29, 2001

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The NATO plan to disarm Albanian militants in Macedonia by collecting three or four thousand of their weapons is futile. This is a part of the world where you can buy an AK-47 assault rifle for less than a hundred dollars. The Albanian nationalists in Macedonia consider the weapons turn in a $300,000 bribe that will get NATO troops to protect them from the Macedonian army. Those weapons can be replaced days, if not hours. 

Four years ago, when Albania had a brief civil war because most of the population lost their savings in a huge Ponzi scheme, over a thousand government arms depots were looted. No one is sure how many weapons went into circulation, because the paranoid communist government that had set up these depots never issued any reports. Indeed, officials from the period commented that there probably never were any records. But a lot of weapons went onto the market. The most quoted estimates indicates half a million small arms (mostly AK-47s or older rifles) and over a thousand tons of ammunition. For a while in 1997, you could get an AK-47 for twenty bucks, which indicates that there were a lot of these rifles in circulation. 

In 1999, a UN pilot project to get people to surrender the stolen arms collected some 6,700 weapons and a hundred tons of ammunition. This was in an area with a population of about 50,000. The UN estimated that there were 10,000 stolen weapons in the area to begin with. But no one was sure, and the locals weren't saying much. Overall, the Albanian government says it has gotten back some 97,000 of the looted weapons. The Albanian government estimated that some 30 percent of the stolen weapons were sold abroad, mostly to Albanians in Kosovo, Greece, Macedonia, and then to more distant countries. Another ten percent were taken by criminal gangs and about 60 percent kept by ordinary citizens. One thing that is known is that AK-47s, grenades, mines and other small arms are readily available in the Balkans. But you can't blame it all on looted Albanian depots. Millions of East European AK-47s (and other weapons) suddenly became war surplus when the Cold War ended ten years ago. The nations that owned this stuff needed cash, so the weapons went where the money was. 

Most armed Albanian nationalists also have a day job as a gangster of one kind or another. Money is no problem for the cause of Greater Albania (Albania plus Kosovo and parts of Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia and Greece.) The armed Albanians never seem to be short of cash. Taking weapons out of the Balkans is like trying to take greed out of Wall Street. A noble endeavor, but not likely to happen any time soon. 


 


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