Saudis ‘buying Balkan arms for opposition’

AFP-JIJI

Saudi Arabia has been supplying Syrian rebels battling the regime of President Bashar Assad with arms bought from Croatia, according to The New York Times.

Citing unnamed U.S. and Western officials, the newspaper reported late Monday that the Saudi-financed “large purchase of infantry weapons” was part of an “undeclared surplus” of arms left over from the Balkan wars in the 1990s and that they began reaching antiregime fighters via Jordan in December.

That was when many Yugoslav weapons started showing up in YouTube videos posted by rebels, it said.

Since then, the Times added, officials said “multiple planeloads” of weapons have left Croatia, with one quoted as saying the shipments included “thousands of rifles and hundreds of machineguns,” as well as an “unknown quantity of ammunition.”

State Department deputy acting spokesman Patrick Ventrell said he had seen the reports, but was not in any position to comment on whether they were true.

“You know where we’ve been on this issue, going back a long time. We provide nonlethal assistance to the opposition. Other countries have made other decisions, and those are their sovereign decision,” he said.

A spokeswoman for the Croatian Foreign Ministry told the Times that, since the start of the Arab Spring, the Balkan country had not sold any weapons to either Saudi Arabia or the Syrian rebels.

Saudi and Jordanian officials, meanwhile, declined to comment, the newspaper said.

The Times said that Washington’s role, if any at all, was unclear.