LJUBLJANA, SLOVENIA — SINCE winning independence in a brief war in 1991, Slovenia has strived to nurture a reputation as an emerging democracy divorced from the bloodshed racking other parts of former Yugoslavia.
But a series of scandals, including the recent discovery in Maribor, Slovenia's second largest city, of a sophisticated international operation that smuggled weapons to combatants in Bosnia-Herzegovina and Croatia, has badly tarnished the tiny Alpine state's image. The operation violates the United Nations arms embargo on the former Yugoslav states.
Other cases involve payoffs by a casino to secret police agents and alleged embezzlement by a minister who had once been the chief aide to Prime Minister Janez Drnovsek.
But the arms-smuggling scandal is by far the most damaging to the four-party coalition government because of charges by one of its own members that the operation could only have been run with the collusion and knowledge of officials at senior-most levels.
Defense Minister Janez Jansa, the main architect of Slovenia's 1991 defeat of the Yugoslav Army, specifically points his finger at the former communists who are the second-largest partner in the ruling coalition.
The 35-year-old former dissident and Social Democratic Party leader claims the chain of responsibility may even reach as high as his longtime political nemesis, President Milan Kucan, the former reformist chief of Slovenia's Communist Party.
``Only people from one party are involved in this case, so this is not a big danger for the government. Maybe it's a bigger danger for the president,'' Mr. Jansa says.
Mr. Kucan ridicules the charges, as does United Lists, the party formed by the former communists. They have launched a vigorous campaign in the state-owned media implying that Jansa was behind the smuggling operation and is involved in other wrongdoing.
The details that have emerged so far read like the plot of a paperback thriller.
Jansa first revealed the scheme in August by announcing the discovery at the customs warehouse at the Maribor airport of 120 tons of weapons concealed in containers marked as humanitarian aid bound for Bosnia.
The weapons were part of a larger shipment that arrived in Maribor in the late summer of 1992 from the African state of Sudan in a Russian aircraft hired by a Polish-Ukrainian firm, Jansa says.
Some deliveries were made to the Muslim Slav-controlled Bosnian towns of Tuzla and Zenica as well as to Knin, the headquarters of Croatia's rebel Serbs, Jansa says.
The arms were carried from Maribor across Croatia on a chartered Russian helicopter. It made refueling stops at Croatia's Adriatic port of Split, Jansa says.
The deliveries stopped in September 1992 when Croatia closed arms smuggling routes in apparent preparation for severing an alliance between its Bosnian Croat proxies and the Bosnian Muslims, he says.
The remaining 10,000 Chinese-made assault rifles, 750,000 rounds of ammunition, rockets, and explosives sat in the warehouse until their discovery. Jansa declined to say how he learned of the cache.
Storage fees for the arms were paid by an Austria-based firm, one of whose partners is a Serb, Jansa says. ``These arms were not only for Muslims ... but also for anybody else depending on their ability to pay,'' he says.
Two airport officials and three police officers were detained in the case. They included Silvo Komar, the veteran Maribor secret police chief and a close friend of President Kucan. Mr. Komar has since resigned.
All five were released after four days and no further arrests have been made. An Austrian arrested in Budapest, however, has been interrogated in the case and several other people are wanted for questioning, including a Bosnian Muslim businessman.
Jansa demanded the convening of an independent parliamentary commission to investigate the case, charging that almost none of the state apparatus has been purged of those who oversaw it during the Communist era, even the judiciary and police.
These people, Jansa claims, will protect their former communist colleagues in the government who he believes were involved in the smuggling operation.
``All those people who were accused, the three secret policemen and the others, don't want to talk,'' he says. ``Some of those arrested were high political personalities in the former communist regime. Everybody who knows the Slovene political system knows that some people would not do something without political orders,'' Jansa says.
Jansa's charges prompted a call for his removal by Justice Minister Zeljko Kozinc, a member of United Lists, who insisted the judiciary can do an impartial job.
United Lists grudgingly agreed in September to Jansa's demand for a parliamentary commission. But only the chairman of the nine-member panel, Zoran Madon of the opposition Slovenian People's Party, has been approved and that on a temporary basis.
Mr. Madon declined in an interview to discuss specifics of the case, but he says the government has shown ``no great enthusiasm for this commission to start work.''
``I think we are facing a very hard and thankless job,'' he says. Those involved in the case are ``very active in trying to prevent anyone from discovering anything.''
He echoed Jansa's concerns about the links between the police and judiciary and the former communists now occupying powerful government positions.
``Unfortunately, the whole infrastructure, the whole state administration and the whole economic system are still totally in the hands of the people of the former regime,'' Madon says. ``This now seems to be the main obstacle for further changes to a more democratic, free-market economy.''