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Interview with an arms smuggler

In 1997, the people of Albania looted vast quantities of weapons from military depots across the country. This followed the collapse of pyramid investment schemes and consequent anarchy, which engulfed the country.

With the advent of the Kosovo conflict in 1998, smugglers were able to buy up Albanian rifles and ammunition and arrange for them to be carried northwards across the border.

Arben, a young Albanian, explained to BBC World Service how he used to transport illegal arms from Albania into neighbouring Kosovo.

When did you start smuggling guns?
"I first traded in weapons in 1999 during the conflict in Kosovo. I took advantage of the opportunity the war gave me and started selling weapons in Kosovo.

Eventually I was caught near Has, a town in Northern Albania, and spent two years in prison. I was released a year ago."

Where did you get the weapons?
"We were getting the weapons in Albania - collecting them and then transporting them over the border."

Did you buy them from civilians?
"Yes, we bought them from people in Albania and sold them to Kosovars."

How much did you have to pay for a weapon?
"We bought each machine gun for about 300 Deutschemarks (US$180) and sold them for between 350 and 400 Deutschemarks (US$250)."

What kind of weapons were you smuggling?
"Automatic weapons and heavy machine guns - usually high calibre guns."

Why have you stopped smuggling guns?
"Laws are better enforced in Albania these days - and there is no longer any motive because there is no war in Kosovo."

Were you ever scared by what you were doing?
"No, because I felt it was the right thing to be doing. I believe that Kosovars were saved by our actions - because of our weapons they were able to start and continue the war against the Serbs."

How did you cross the border?
"We travelled mainly at night because we felt safer. We used to transport the weapons from the city of Kukes to Has, a town near the border, by car - then other people would transport the weapons over the mountains using pack animals."

When you were arrested, how many weapons did you have with you?
"They confiscated 150 arms of different calibres - as well as bullets and ammunition."

Do you have any guns now?
"Yes - like everyone else I keep guns at home for self-defence."
Street fighting, Albania, 1997
Armed anarchy on the streets of Albania
 

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