Croatia says it will withdraw its soldiers from the UN peacekeeping force stationed in the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights following media reports that Saudi Arabia has bought weapons from Zagreb and shipped them to militants in Syria.
Croatian Prime Minister Zoran Milanovic said during a cabinet meeting in the capital, Zagreb, on Thursday that following the release of the reports, the lives of Croatian soldiers in the Golan Heights could not be guaranteed.
Croatian President Ivo Josipovic, who is the supreme commander of Croatia’s armed forces, also said in a statement on Thursday that he would order the soldiers to be withdrawn.
“We shall respect Croatia’s international obligations and safety requirements of the soldiers from our partner countries,” the statement said.
On February 26, The New York Times reported that Saudi Arabia had recently purchased large cargos of infantry and heavy weapons from Croatia and, through Jordan, funneled them to militants fighting against the Syrian government.
Zagreb has denied the reports of selling weapons to either Saudi Arabia or militants in Syria.
“We can deny over and over again, but everyone has already read these reports and our soldiers are no longer safe,” Milanovic said, citing The New York Times article.
Officials familiar with the transfers told the American newspaper that “the arms were part of an undeclared surplus in Croatia remaining from the 1990s Balkan wars.”
An official in Washington also confirmed that a senior Croatian official visited Washington in summer last year and suggested to American officials that Croatia had many weapons available should anyone be interested in moving them to Syria’s armed group.
“Both Ukrainian-made rifle cartridges that had been purchased by Saudi Arabia and Swiss-made hand grenades that had been provided to the United Arab Emirates were found by journalists to be in rebel possession,” The Times added.
Croatian newspaper Jutarnji list reported on Saturday that “there had been an unusually high number of sightings of Jordanian cargo planes at Pleso Airport in Zagreb, Croatia’s capital in recent months.”
Croatia, which joined NATO in 2008, has about 100 soldiers in the UN force stationed in the occupied Golan Heights.