Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Serbs Making Secret Weapons Shipments to Libya, Diplomats Say

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Serbs Making Secret Weapons Shipments to Libya, Diplomats Say

Article excerpt

For three hours last August a lumbering Russian transport plane, its lights and instrument panels shut down in a power failure, desperately circled low over Belgrade until it crashed as it made an emergency landing at Surcin International Airport.

Shortly after the IL-76 plowed into a nearby corn field, a series of secondary explosions illuminated the night sky, witnesses said. Well-armed Serbian police officers immediately cordoned off a wide area around the crash site. And when the Russian ambassador arrived at the airport he was denied entry, although 11 Russian crew members lay dead in the wreckage.

Western embassies, drawing on carefully guarded intelligence sources, recently concluded that the plane was on its way to the Mediterranean island of Malta with a clandestine military cargo bound for Libya - a violation of U.N. sanctions imposed on Libya for its refusal to extradite suspects in the bombing of Pan Am flight 103 in December 1988 over Scotland. Western diplomats have determined that this cargo was only one of several that have been sent covertly in the last few months to Malta and on to Libya by Serbia's government-run arms manufacturers. "Libya and Yugoslavia have a long history of arms dealing," said a senior European military official, "and this continued after the breakup of Yugoslavia and even during the war directed against the Muslims by the Serbs. But we had managed to get Belgrade to shut down most of this trafficking of arms. Now the pipeline is open again." American officials said they have quietly told senior Serbian officials they are concerned about the arms dealing with Tripoli and want it stopped. But Washington has stopped short of directly blaming Slobodan Milosevic, the Serbian president, who is now considered a key American partner in the Balkans, for the arms trafficking. "Sometimes," said a senior Western diplomat in defense of Milosevic, "the right hand here does not always know what the left hand is doing." Serbian officials deny that they are involved in arms shipments to Libya and dispute the report, which has circulated in the opposition press in Belgrade, that weapons were aboard the Russian aircraft. But other Western diplomats said they thought it unlikely that the arms trade was being carried out without the direct approval of Milosevic, whose security apparatus keeps close track of arms trade inside and outside the country. A major Serbian arms dealer, who agreed to speak on the condition of anonymity, acknowledged that he and other senior arms industry managers had flown to Tunis in July and driven overland to Tripoli for a meeting with Libyan officials. This official, however, refused to say what was discussed at the meeting or whether any arms deals had been negotiated. Intelligence Lacking Western officials in Belgrade and in Washington were unable to say how extensive the trafficking is or exactly what types of weapons were involved. …

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