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Czech Republic singled out again as source of illegal arms

Concerns were raised over the thriving Czech arms trade—both legal and illegal—last week in the annual international Small Arms Survey and an investigation by the defense publication Jane's Intelligence Digest.

Suspect practices continue in legal trading, local NGOs say, with a lack of transparency that breaches international accords signed by the Czech government and indirectly encourages illegal trade. Concerns have been raised that many illegal small arms, either produced here or passed through, end up in the hands of international criminal or terrorist organizations.

The 100 or so registered Czech small arms producers have done a roaring trade in recent years, with sales jumping from $49 million in 2000 to $73 million in 2002. Observers say it's impossible to estimate the size of the illegal small arms market.

According to the Small Arms Survey 2003, unveiled in New York last Tuesday, police in Northern Europe, "tend to believe that illegal weapons are arriving largely from Eastern and Central Europe, especially the Czech Republic and the former Soviet Union."

The Jane's investigative article reported that despite recent hauls of illegal small arms—all with their serial numbers erased—the trade continues to thrive in places such as an open-air flea market in Bustehrad to the northwest of Prague where homemade weapons and silencers can be obtained with ease, at least if you don't resemble a police officer.

(PBJ 14.vii.03)

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