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Weapons Possession, Crime Soars in Belgrade with Civil War

February 14, 1992

BELGRADE, Yugoslavia (AP) _ With civil war, easy access to guns and grenades has created a crime wave in Belgrade - formerly one of Europe’s safest cities.

Thousands of reservists from Serbia have gone to the distant front in the past six months to serve brief tours in a punishing war that has killed thousands in neighboring Croatia.

Out of curiosity, a desire to protect themselves, or perhaps already intending to create mayhem at home, many smuggled weapons back with them.

Crime is still far below the levels of comparably sized U.S. cities, but a surge of lawlessness is noticeable in Belgrade, the Serbian and federal capital of almost 2 million:

-Two rowdy customers in a Belgrade bar pumped nine bullets into Police Inspector Branislav Perovic when he asked for identification papers Sunday.

-Three hand grenades were tossed into the popular Aisha cafe, in the center of Belgrade. The same night, a man was shot and killed in the posh Knez restaurant in a gangland-style slaying.

-Outside of Belgrade, a jealous Serb reservist killed the parents and brother of his girlfriend and three soldiers before he was seized in Bjeljina, about 50 miles southwest of the capital.

Murders averaged about eight a year in the 1970 and 1980s. They jumped to 68 last year and are on a course that would double that figure this year. By early this month, 11 people were slain. Five police were killed in the previous three months.

Police say burglaries, armed robberies and car thefts also are increasing.

Crime rose thoughout eastern Europe after the fall of communism that began in 1989, but Yugoslavia is unique because of the sudden glut of weapons.

″Gun laws in Serbia must be drastically tightened up,″ Dragan Neskovic, a high-ranking Belgrae police officer, said in the Politika daily.

Laws now treat possession of up to three unregistered weapons as a misdemeanor. The owner could be fined 2,000 dinars, or about $16. ″In reality, the worst punishment we can inflict is to impound the weapon,″ Neskovic said.

Neskovic says about 700,000 guns are registered in Serbia, a republic of about 10 million people. Authorities expect 150,000 new requests for gun permits this year.

In the southern city of Nis, authorities since December have confiscated two heavy machine guns, 65 rifles, three submachine guns, 87 pistols and 225 hand grenades from reservists, local police chief Djordje Blagojevic said.

Some Serb militiamen with criminal records or underworld connections are shipping large quantities of weapons. A hand grenade reportedly goes for about $3 on the black market.

Experts say an economic crisis and high unemployment also contribute to the breakdown of law and order.

″The economic crisis has caused increased social tensions and could lead to wider unrest throughout the country,″ said Yugoslav Interior Minister Petar Gracanin. A ″huge quantity of weapons now in possession of the citizens″ makes the situation even more explosive.

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