War Profiteer of the Month: Sloboda Čačak

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A man with his back tot he camera holds a large rocket launcher over his shoulder
An M79 rocket launcher produced by the company

Sloboda Čačak is a Serbian government-owned ammunition company, found in 1948 by the Yugoslav government. It is based in the city of Čačak, in central Serbia, employs around 2000 people and recorded revenues income of €62.21 million in 2018, and income of €3.51 million. The company produces ammunition used by both military and police forces.

Over the last decade the Serbian government has invested over €30 million in the company, to pay for modernization of equipment.

Sloboda Čačak produces a wide range of ammunition for tanks and artillery, rockets, and rocket-propelled grenades. A catalogue produced in 2010 includes ammunition for use in anti-aircraft weapons, small arms, and a range of stun grenades, smoke bombs, rubber baton rounds and flash grenades marketed to be used by police forces.

Use in conflicts

The company’s “M79 Osa” anti-tank weapon was reportedly used in Syria by both the Free Syrian Army and by the Islamic State in Iraq. In 2013 The New York Times reported that the M79 Osa being used in various places in Syria, including by the Ababil Horan Brigade in the southern Damascus suburb of Al Qadam, highlighting videos uploaded to YouTube which show dozens of M79 weapons. The newspaper has documented the widespread use of weapons produced in the former Yugoslavia, and speculated that the arms were shipped to opposition forces by Saudi Arabia after large numbers began to appear in YouTube videos uploaded in early 2013.

The M80 Zolja is a “disposable 64mm unguided anti-tank rocket-propelled grenade” first designed in 1980 and used throughout conflicts in the former Yugoslavia through the 90s, and remains in production.

Tear gas canisters in Iraq killing protesters

The Balkan Insight website has reported that tear gas canisters produced by Sloboda Čačak were imported into Iraq in 2009. The shipment was part of a massive arms deal between the Iraqi and Serbian governments worth $325 million and described as “the deal of the century”, and included 40mm military tear gas grenades produced by Sloboda Čačak. The website reports that the grenade was responsible for at least 20 of the 400 protesters killed by Iraqi security personnel in late 2019. Amnesty International reported that the grenades caused “horrific” injuries, with some canisters found lodged in victims skulls. The M99 grenades identified are modelled on military-style grenades that are up to ten times heavier than standard tear gas canisters.

The same grenades have been sold to Montenegro, Belgium, Israel and Spain.

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