A trafficking hub in the middle of nowhere.

Gornji Vakuf-Uskoplje is a small town in Bosnia and Herzegovina. The fact that it is a logistics hub, close to major highways, makes it a strategically placed yet inconspicuous hotspot for trafficking.

The town, with a population of around 20 000 inhabitants,1 is close to the city of Bugojno in the central part of the country. It is therefore close to main roads going north–south from Banja Luka to Mostar and east–west from Sarajevo to Croatia.2 Like other hotspots, the town suffers from socio-economic vulnerability, including high unemployment (43.5 per cent in 2016) and a low average salary of €345 per month.3 The town is divided between Bosniaks and Croats, which has strengthened ethnically based patronage networks but crippled public institutions.

In the past ten years, its central position has been used to build a criminal milieu in this small locality. It has nevertheless operated largely below the radar.

One of the few times that Gornji Vakuf-Uskoplje made the news was when one of its former inhabitants, Vinko Žuljević Klica, was assassinated in May 2015 in Zagreb. Klica, a war veteran, was behind one of the most powerful security companies in Croatia and was allegedly a major player in Zagreb’s underground scene.4

But in January 2020, Gornji Vakuf-Uskoplje made headlines when Ante Sičaja, the owner of an eponymous local import–export company, was arrested with 400 kilograms of cannabis with an estimated value of €2 million. Cannabis coming from Albania and Montenegro was allegedly transported by his company from Capljina via Bileca and Mostar. The drugs were repackaged in Gornji Vakuf-Uskoplje. A small portion was kept for the domestic market, while the majority of the cannabis was shipped west to Croatia and farther into the EU.5 Ostensibly, the political connections of the owner, who is said to be linked to the Croatian Democratic Union, along with the good reputation of the company in the region, may have helped to avoid suspicion.

It is possible that this counter-narcotics operation, carried out by the State Investigation and Protection Agency, exposed a network that has been in operation for some time. Police reportedly seized a personal diary kept by Mr Sičaja which connects the company’s illicit activities with other criminal figures from the region, including in Croatia, Montenegro and Bulgaria.6

Furthermore, there are recent cases that point to the fact that buyers were coming to Gornji Vakuf-Uskoplje to purchase drugs, which were said to be easier to obtain and relatively cheap.7 Seizures from towns in the surrounding areas can usually trace the drugs back to Gornji Vakuf-Uskoplje.8

There are rumours that the town is also a hub for weapons smuggling. There have been cases in which weapons have been confiscated from residents of the municipality. Weapons have also been found on the premises of the Sičaja company.9

This case illustrates that hotspots for drugs may not just be major urban centres or socio-economically vulnerable towns, but also logistical hubs along key trafficking routes. For example, in April 2020, Macedonian police discovered 1.2 tonnes of cannabis in a warehouse just outside of Skopje. In November 2020, Serbian police seized 628 kilograms of cannabis from an abandoned hanger in Arandjelovac, 80 kilometres south of Belgrade. The drugs were being packaged for further distribution in Western Europe. In November 2019, Serbian police seized 77 kilograms of heroin near the town of Mladenovac on the outskirts of Belgrade.

These examples show that when looking at the flow of drugs, it is misleading and simplistic to draw arrows on a map that show the trafficking of heroin from, for example, Turkey via the Western Balkans to the EU, or cannabis from Albania via Montenegro and Bosnia and Herzegovina to Croatia and beyond as if they were straight, uninterrupted journeys. The reality is that these shipments are usually made in a series of short trips, with the journey and often the load broken up in order to avoid obstacles and take advantage of opportunities.

Trafficking routes tend to follow the paths of least resistance, where risk is lower because of political connections, corruption and concealment in a relatively safe form of transportation (in this case, a well-known trucking company). Indeed, the case of Gornji Vakuf-Uskoplje shows the links between the licit and the illicit economy and the sometimes cozy relationship between business, political and criminal elites.


  1. Agencija za statistiku BiH, Popis stanovništva u BiH iz 2013. godine—Općina Gornji Vakuf-Uskoplje, http://www.statistika.ba/?show=12&id=10375

  2. Geografski položaj, Općina Gornji Vakuf-Uskoplje, https://www.gornjivakuf-uskoplje.ba/index.php/posjeta/polozaj.html

  3. Federal Institute for Development Programming, Socioekonomski pokazatelji po općinama FBIH 2019, 33, http://fzzpr.gov.ba/bs/pubs/3/3/publikacije

  4. M Cigoj, KLICINA UDOVICA ‘Raspisujemo nagradu za otkrivanje ubojice moga muža. Sumnjamo da iza likvidacije stoji netko iz kruga najbližih’, Jutarnji.hr, 20 September 2015, https://www.jutarnji.hr/vijesti/klicina-udovica-raspisujemo-nagradu-za-otkrivanje-ubojice-moga-muza.-sumnjamo-da-iza-likvidacije-stoji-netko-iz-kruga-najblizih-302740

  5. A B Č, Poduzetnik iz BiH u cisterni krio 400 kg marihuane: Planirao da je prošvercuje u Hrvatsku, Oslobođenje, 28 January 2020, https://www.oslobodjenje.ba/vijesti/crna-hronika/poduzetnik-iz-bih-u-cisterni-krio-400-kg-marihuane-planirao-da-je-prosvercuje-u-hrvatsku-526599

  6. M Aš, Kako je pala najopasnija narkogrupa: Tone skanka u BiH uvezli u cisternama, Avaz, 12 March 2020, https://avaz.ba/vijesti/bih/553982/kako-je-pala-najopasnija-narkogrupa-tone-skanka-u-bih-uvezli-u-cisternama

  7. Gornji Vakuf: Kod maloljetne Mostarke pronađena droga, gornjivakuf.com, 5 January 2021, https://www.gornjivakuf.com/vijesti/crna-hronika/4621-gornji-vakuf-kod-maloljetne-mostarke-pronadena-droga?fbclid=IwAR2GFDX7U7HBZvdpGIj7JpMfLbm0NyybP60F1VRsX6P6_2Rr1NF-v2ex0bg

  8. Gornji Vakuf: Otkrivena plantaža od 270 stabljika indijske konoplje, Vijesti.ba, 16 August 2013, https://vijesti.ba/clanak/161708/gornji-vakuf-otkrivena-plantaza-od-270-stabljika-indijske-konoplje

  9. FOTO: SIPA oduzela veću količinu naoružanja i municije na području Gornjeg Vakufa, gornjivakuf.com, 29 January 2020, https://www.gornjivakuf.com/vijesti/crna-hronika/4355-foto-sipa-oduzela-vecu-kolicinu-naoruzanja-i-municije-na-podrucju-gornjeg-vakufa