Albanian Daily News
EU ready to clear Danube if Serbia plays ball

Albanian Economic Tribune - Jan 24, 2000

BRUSSELS - Work on clearing bombed bridges from the Danube River in Yugoslavia could begin in March if Belgrade agrees next week to a proposal that the European Union would help fund, EU sources said on Friday.

Removing the wreckage of three bridges destroyed by NATO during last year’s 11-week air war over Kosovo from the river at Novi Sad in Serbia is essential to reopen the key international waterway to commercial shipping.

But it would require a compromise on the sensitive issue of post -war reconstruction that could cause friction with the United States.

The 30 million euro (eur=dollar) project awaits approval next Tuesday by the Budapest-based, 11-member Danube Commission, made up of states through which the river flows, including Yugoslavia. The decision requires unanimity.

Crucially, the plan involves erecting one temporary bridge over the river, EU sources told Reuters. The European Commission would pay 80 percent of the cost if it goes ahead. Allowing time for tenders, work could begin "probably in March".

Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic has so far insisted the Danube will not be cleared until NATO allies agree to foot the bill for rebuilding bridges they destroyed. At least eight Danube bridges were among the 59 hit by NATO bombs and missiles.

The NATO allies, and the EU, have vowed that Serbia will get no reconstruction aid at all as long as Milosevic is in power.

A senior NATO diplomat said the United States was concerned that the West should not reward "Milosevic’s blackmail tactics". Any EU money spent on Danube bridges would free cash for the Yugoslav leader to spend elsewhere, he said.

However, European allies including France and Germany are concerned at the regional economic damage being inflicted by the river’s continued closure.

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