Albanian Daily News
International airport in NE Albania

Albanian Economic Tribune - Jan 14, 2000

TIRANA - The north-eastern town of Kukes, which gained fame during the Kosovo refugee crisis, will soon have an international airport on its outskirts, built with a donation from the United Arab Emirates.

The airport in this remote town, 21 kilometres (13 miles) from the border check-point with Kosovo, will have the same dimensions as Rinas International Airport, the only one in Albania.

The runway will be 1,800 metres (1,600 yards) in length and 30 metres (27 yards) wide. It will be just three kilometres from the town.

The chairman of Kukes district council said that the construction work should start this year.

"The airport will serve domestic and international flights, and the United Arab Emirates have granted the money for its construction," said Shefqet Bruka.

The airport will be built thanks to a $30-million donation from the United Arab Emirates. The Arab country’s army took care of Kosovo refugees earlier this year, when half a million ethnic Albanian streamed into the country to flee the Serbian crack-down. UAE soldiers built a dirt runway near Kukes to facilitate the shipment of humanitarian aid to some 170,000 refugees stationed in the north-eastern town and its surroundings.

The airport will cover an area of 47 hectares and will be able to land five planes in quick succession.

The national site planning council, headed by Premier Ilir Meta, approved earlier this week the winning project, which would inflict the least harm to green areas, as it is expected that 1,800 square metres will be deforested, compared to another project that planned to decimate some 11,000 square metres of woodland.

The government - which is lobbing to accumulate funds from foreign donors to build a highway connecting Durres port with Kukes, 200 kilometres (125 miles) away, said that the construction of this airport will be one of its priorities for this year.

The airport is excepted to revive the north-eastern regions, Albania’s poorest, which are isolated from the rest of the country by a crest of mountains and almost impassable twisting roads. The region used to depend on the mining industry but, following the collapse of communism ten years ago, the mines were closed and most of the population lost their jobs.

Trade with Kosovo has revived somewhat since the end of the conflict, but difficult transportation makes it easier to reach the majority ethnic Albanian province via Macedonia.

North-eastern Albania could also become a tourism area, but huge investment is needed and lawlessness needs to be eradicated from the locals.

[URL may be different next day if article is archived]