BUDAPEST, Nov 27, 1999 -- (Reuters) Hungarian Foreign Minister Janos Martonyi said on Friday he is hopeful Belgrade will let the Danube River be cleared of bombed bridges once a feasibility study is completed by mid-December.
"There is some hope that Belgrade will not tie the cleaning of the river bed with the reconstruction of the bridges," Martonyi told a news conference.
"There is some hope - don't misunderstand me, some hope," he added.
He said the feasibility study was being prepared by Serbian, Hungarian and Austrian engineers under the auspices of the Danube Commission, which oversees traffic on the river.
The Danube has been blocked to river traffic through Serbia since early in NATO's 78-day bombing of Yugoslavia, during which at least half a dozen bridges spanning the Danube were blasted into the water.
Belgrade so far has balked at approving any plan for clearing the bridges that did not also include reconstruction for the spans. Western countries, led by Washington, have barred such aid until Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic has been ousted from power.
Martonyi said there was no way to know how Belgrade would ultimately react to the feasibility study, but he said lining up funds, engineers and workers would be no problem.
"Financing is otherwise not very important - it is 14 to 15 million euros (dollars)," he said.
"The real issue is whether we can do the operation or not. We have the technology, we have the companies who are ready to do that, we have the money. The only thing we need is to be able to go there," he said.
Martonyi also said Hungary hoped to complete its accession talks on joining the European Union by the end of next year and was hoping to become a member by 2003.
"It is not excluded that accession talks could be finished by the end of 2000 and the first wave of new expansion could happen on January 1, 2003 if the EU completes institutional reforms by the end of 2002," he said.
He said the Hungarian government had approved general conditions for membership in four of five key policy areas without seeking any exceptions from existing EU policy, but would seek some exceptions in the agricultural field.
He said the exceptions concerned interest subsidies on agricultural contracts concluded before EU accession, subsidies to young farmers and certain subsidies to producer organizations that are given out in a manner different from the normal EU way.
He said Hungary was not seeking exceptions with regard to the four other major policy areas, which govern the free flow of people across borders, cooperation in internal and judicial affairs, regional policy and financial controls.
[URL may be different next day if article is archived]