Serb arms trade on target

BELGRADE – Nora, one of the stars of the 2007 Belgrade Arms Fair, is attracting scores of photographers – and the buyers may not be far behind. The 28-ton howitzer, mounted on an eight-wheeled truck with four hydraulic legs, is one of a wide range of products that Serbia hopes will put its once-mighty defense industry back on the international map. It may all be a far cry from the golden days of the 1980s, when the former socialist federation of Yugoslavia, with Serbia at its heart, sold $2.5 billion of weapons annually, a large part of that to Iraq and Iran. But Serbia’s state arms factories, bombed by NATO to force the end of Belgrade’s brutal counterinsurgency war in the rebel Kosovo province, are now working again, and looking both east and west for business. Officials won’t disclose the value of current sales but say growth is healthy. Presentation at the fair is hardly slick, but an effort is being made to match the sales tactics to the times. «Load and Conquer» goes the slogan of the «Victor» airgun range, while a stand promoting small arms ammunition boasts it is available in «both NATO and Eastern calibers.» Nice price The effort to make up for lost time includes trying to shed the murderous image that the army acquired in the Yugoslav wars of the 1990s. Last year provided a milestone when Serbia was invited into NATO’s Partnership for Peace program – the waiting room for the Western alliance. «Since entering PfP, Serbia’s position in the global defense market has improved a lot,» Sutanovac said. «Five years ago nobody expected that we’d develop relations with the United States, and today there’s great interest there from several factories… «Quality comes first, but price is also very important. Our arms are affordable and poorer countries are very interested, since with our weapons they can get the best product for a reasonable price.» There are no price tags on display at the fair. Interested buyers are discreetly asked to leave their details. But they can get up close to the products, such as the 262-mm Orkan rocket. It comes with a choice of warheads: anti-personnel cluster bomb, or anti-tank. Stony-faced soldiers make unlikely sales models as they stride around with sniper rifles clasped to their chests – or suffer silently inside the latest hedge-like camouflage outfit in the 40 degree Celsius (104 Fahrenheit) heat. Artillery systems are the biggest sellers. But Sutanovac makes clear its ambitions extend much farther: «I think we’d lose if we concentrated on just one market. All are equally interesting, and all who want to cooperate with us are welcome.»

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