Information on two M93 grenade launchers seized after an armed attack in the Kosovo village of Banjska is held in the archives of the Zastava arms factory in Kragujevac, according to a reply received by Radio Free Europe from the Serbian arms manufacturer to a request for access to information of public importance.
This is the first time that Serbia’s largest arms factory has confirmed the information previously presented by the Kosovo authorities – that the attackers possessed weapons manufactured in Serbia.
What remains unknown, even after the answer, is when the aforementioned throwers were manufactured, to whom they were sold and how they ended up in the hands of the group of masked assailants who attacked the Kosovo police on 24 September.
In the village of Banjska, a Kosovo police officer, Afrim Bunjaku, was killed and several others injured in an armed attack. Three Serbian attackers were killed in an exchange of fire.
Separate investigations are under way in Kosovo and Serbia on this occasion.
Milan Radoicic, former vice-president of the Serbian List, the leading party of Serbs in Kosovo, which enjoys the support of the authorities in Belgrade, claimed responsibility for the attack.
In the days following the attack, Kosovo police released pictures of the seized weapons.
On the basis of these images, the RFE identified the serial numbers of the grenade throwers and requested further information from Zastava Arms on 2 October. In particular, whether they were manufactured in this factory and, if so, to whom they were sold.
On 20 October, following unanswered questions from the press, the RFE submitted a request for access to information of public importance to Zastava Arms. RFE received a reply to the request two weeks later.
What did ‘Zastava’ not want to disclose?
The Zastava Arms Factory, which produced the identified throwers, refused to provide information on when and to whom they were delivered.
What is an M93 grenade launcher
“The M93 automatic grenade launcher is an infantry weapon designed for the destruction of exposed and concealed personnel at ranges up to 1,700 m and for the destruction of light combat vehicles at ranges up to 1,000,” the “Zastava Arms” website says.
According to the description on the website, the M93 operates only with rifle fire, and the rate of fire can be varied from 50 to 400 rounds per minute, but, as they add, depending on tactical requirements and “at the customer’s request, the automatic grenade launcher can be mounted on different types of combat vehicles.
In response to the RFE’s request, they justified their refusal by arguing that the release of the data would “seriously jeopardize national defense, national security or public safety”.
It was also argued that it would jeopardize “international relations” and that it would “violate the rules of international arbitration law”. Why there is such a risk is not explained.
Under the Law on Production and Trade in Arms, the manufacturer of arms and military equipment is obliged to keep and permanently preserve records of the weapons produced. These records include information on the type, quantity, serial numbers, as well as customers and delivery dates.
Following the seizure of weapons in Banjska vasa, the RFE also identified the ‘Black Arrow M93’ (“Crna strela M93”) sniper rifle by serial number. Following the same request, Zastava Arms replied that “it does not exist in their archives”.
The second weapon – the M69 mortar used in the attack – was stated not to be part of the Zastava production program.
What do they claim in Kosovo?
In a preliminary report on Banjska by the Kosovo Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Diaspora, updated with information gathered by 20 October, the Kosovo authorities further state that the mortars were manufactured in Kragujevac.
In a report seen by RFE, the Kosovo authorities state that most of the seized weapons were manufactured in Serbia.
Citing statements by Serbian military experts, they point out that there are three scenarios of how these weapons arrived in the north of Kosovo – theft from arms depots in Serbia, sale by private dealers or direct transfer from Serbia.
The report further notes that “a large number of seized weapons cannot be sold by a manufacturer without the permission of the Serbian state and cannot be found on the black market.”
Following the Banjska attack, Serbia’s state and military top brass denied any links to the armed group. Milan Radoicic himself, through his lawyer, has announced that Serbia is not involved.
According to a letter read out by his lawyer Goran Petronijevic on 29 September, Radoicic said that he had “not informed anyone from the Serbian authorities and local political structures in the north of Kosovo” about the attack, nor had he received “any assistance” from them.
More unanswered questions
RFE/RL also requested information from the relevant institutions on how the handheld missiles arrived in northern Kosovo from the Serbian special-purpose industry system and were repaired at the Kragujevac Repair Institute, according to the identified markings.
The director of the institution refused to answer questions, claiming that the Ministry of Defence was responsible for the institution’s communication with the media.
However, RFE journalists did not receive a reply from the Ministry of Defence even a month and a half after their request for access to information of public importance.
To date, Serbian institutions have not explained on what basis the Senior Public Prosecutor’s Office in Belgrade claims that the weapons used in the attack on Kosovo police in Banjska came from Tuzla, Bosnia and Herzegovina.
The Higher State Prosecutor’s Office in Belgrade did not reply to RFE’s inquiries as to whether there was evidence that the weapons were indeed bought in Tuzla and who might have helped Radoicic with the transport.
Although an investigation in BiH was announced at the beginning of October, the BiH Prosecutor’s Office has not opened an investigation into the allegations that Radoicic purchased the weapons in Tuzla.
On 6 November, BiH Prosecutor’s Office spokesperson Boris Grubesic told RFE that “no reports have been received from police agencies about possible crimes and perpetrators”.
The BiH Prosecutor’s Office also states that they have not received any information from institutions in neighboring countries.
The prosecutor’s office in Belgrade is charging Radoicic with conspiracy to commit the offences of illicit production, possession, carrying and trafficking of firearms and explosive substances and serious offences against general security.
The offences he is charged with in Serbia do not include terrorism, nor the murder of a Kosovo police officer, and he was released from detention in less than 24 hours.
What weapons were seized?
Rocket-propelled grenades, grenade launchers, a number of automatic rifles, sniper rifles, military vehicles, explosives, detonators are part of the large quantity of weapons and ammunition seized by the Kosovo police after the Banjska attack.
Almost the entire arsenal has so far been used in all wars fought in the territory of the former Yugoslavia. The purposes are varied, but cover a wide range of warfare.
The aforementioned report of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Diaspora of Kosovo of 20 October also stated that the weapons in Banjska are of recent production. These are M75 hand grenades and hand-held rocket-propelled grenade launchers – zola – from 2021, and Serbian-made 30 mm grenades from 2022.
The list of weapons mentioned in the report was made, it says, following the seizure “by the Kosovo law enforcement authorities in cooperation with EULEX and KFOR, which cooperated in the investigation”.