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News 05 Aug 16

EU 'Tracking' Balkan Arms Flow Revealed by BIRN

The EU’s diplomatic service said it was looking into the findings of a BIRN and OCCRP investigation that showed how Central and Eastern European weapons are flooding Syria's battlefields.

Lawrence Marzouk
BIRN
London
The European Union’s foreign policy unit is monitoring the flow of weapons to the Middle East. | Photo by Thijs ter Haar/Flickr

The European Union’s foreign policy unit said it was monitoring the flow of weapons to the Middle East and into the hands of Islamist groups in Syria, including ISIS.

Maja Kocijancic, a spokeswoman for EU foreign policy chief, Federica Mogherini, told BIRN that the External Action Service was “very active in this field”, adding: “We are looking at the report that you have published.”

The service is gathering data on illicit weapons found in Syria and Iraq, Kocijancic added.

A recent investigation by Balkan Investigative Reporting Network, BIRN, and the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project, OCCRP, revealed that since 2012, Bosnia, Bulgaria, Croatia, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Serbia and Romania have agreed exports of weapons and ammunition worth at least 1.2 billion euros to four countries supporting Syria’s armed opposition.

The bulk of the deals, totalling 829 million euros, were made with Saudi Arabia.

The exporting countries granted the licences despite evidence that many weapons are being diverted to Syria, ending up with opposition as well as Islamist groups accused of atrocities.

EU members and countries seeking to join the union are obliged to carry out eight different checks before agreeing arms export licences.

The checks include assessing the risk that sold weapons could be diverted to or end up in the hands of terrorist groups.

Kocijancic added: “We are aware of the reports on arms transfers from Europe to the Middle East, which allege illicit diversion of weapons to Islamist groups such as Da'esh, Ansar al-Sham or Jabhat Fatah al-Sham, and are looking into this issue.”

She was unable to confirm whether prospective Balkan members were likely to be criticised for their arms exports in the yearly progress reports due out this autumn.

However, she added: “The fight against organised crime, that includes drugs, arms and people smuggling, is looked at extremely carefully.”

Arms trade and human rights experts said the diversion of these weapons and their use by groups suspected of committing war crimes should raise questions about the trade.

The BIRN and OCCRP investigation, published alongside The Guardian, has made international headlines and drawn reactions from heads of states and senior officials.

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