By Daria Sito-Sucic
SARAJEVO (Reuters) - Western Balkan governments are looking at creating a network of experts to help tackle the illicit trade in weapons from the region, officials said on Monday, amid concerns after the Paris attacks about guns falling into the hands of militant Islamists.
Some of the assault rifles used by the perpetrators of the Nov. 13 attacks in Paris, claimed by Islamic State and in which 130 people died, were traced to the former Yugoslavia.
Former Yugoslavia, which collapsed in turmoil and war in the 1990s, has long been a rich source of illicit weapons for criminal gangs in Europe. But now there are concerns about such weapons also reaching Islamist militants determined to strike in western Europe.
Bosnian Security Minister Dragan Mektic said France had proposed that the states of the western Balkans - the countries of the former Yugoslavia and Albania - to join forces.
"These weapons have been increasingly used in terrorist attacks, and our colleagues from France have proposed that an expert network be formed in the Western Balkans to crack down on smugglers," Mektic told reporters after a conference of security officials from the region.
Mektic said the network would be open to member states of the European Union. In the Western Balkans only Croatia and Slovenia have so far joined the EU, though other states hope to.
Serbian Interior Minister Nebojsa Stefanovic said Serbia had cooperated with France in investigating the origin of the weapons used in the Paris attacks.
"The investigation needs to show, regardless of where the weapons were produced, how they got there, who were the people who took part in that chain," Stefanovic said.
The security conference participants agreed in principle on establishing such a network but they did not discuss formal details, said Mektic.
"This initiative is very important, not only for security in western Europe but also because of security in our countries, where we should work on a complete de-escalation, to try to get hold of as many illegal weapons as possible," Stefanovic said.
(Reporting by Daria Sito-Sucic; Editing by; Editing by Matt Robinson and Gareth Jones)