Serb town to start removing Danube bridge debris

BELGRADE, Jan 12, 2000 -- (Reuters) Authorities in Novi Sad, the capital of Serbia's northern province, said on Tuesday they planned soon to start removing the debris of two Danube bridges destroyed in last year's NATO air campaign.

"The plans are completed, collecting funds from donors follows and we expect to start work within one month," mayor Stevan Vrbaski of the opposition-led Novi Sad told a news conference.

The Danube has been blocked to river traffic since early in NATO's March-June 1999 air campaign, during which at least half a dozen bridges spanning the river were blasted into the water, three of them in Novi Sad.

Yugoslavia has said that as part of any plan to clear the river the bridges over the Danube have to be rebuilt - at international expense since Yugoslavia has no money.

Western countries, led by Washington, have barred such aid until Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic is ousted.

An 11-nation Budapest-based Danube Commission is expected to meet later in January on clearing the Danube. Belgrade state media reported that commission experts started a visit to Yugoslavia on Monday but gave no details.

The head of the Novi Sad government, Predrag Filipov, said there were concrete promises for funds from abroad but would not say from which countries.

He estimated that between DM 12 and DM 14 million ($6.3-7.4 million) were needed to clear the remains of the Varazdin bridge and rebuild the bridge. Estimates for the second bridge had not been completed yet.

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