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Romania/Ukraine: Tensions Rise Over Kyiv's Controversial Danube Project

Tensions are rising between Ukraine and neighboring Romania after a recent border incident on the Danube River. Bucharest announced yesterday that it has decided to deploy additional patrol boats on the waterway in reaction to alleged violations of its border by Ukrainian vessels.

15 October 2004 -- Romania's decision to deploy 13 more patrol boats on the Danube River comes in the wake of alleged border violations by Ukrainian merchant ships.

Yesterday, the chief of Romania's border police, Aurel Neagu, said that despite notifying Kyiv after each incident, Ukrainian ships have illegally entered Romanian territorial waters four times this month. Neagu said his country will no longer tolerate such violations but expressed hope that authorities from both countries can agree on common steps to avert other such incidents.

In turn, Romanian Foreign Minister Mircea Geoana said that, despite the tensions, Bucharest is willing to continue talking with Kyiv about the issue.

Also yesterday, Romania's ambassador to Kyiv, Alexandru Cornea, was summoned to the Ukrainian Foreign Ministry to explain a recent incident involving boats from both countries.

Officials in Kyiv say that on 9 October, a Romanian patrol boat forced the captain of a Ukrainian cruise ship to change course and leave the dredged portion of the river, putting the lives of his German passengers at risk.

Speaking to reporters on today, Ukrainian presidential-administration head Vasyl Baziv accused Romania of refusing to reach a negotiated settlement. "Such actions by the Romanian side contradict the accord [on border procedures] that exists between our countries, create unsafe conditions for navigation on the Danube River, and endanger human lives," he said. "It is particularly alarming that the Romanian side avoids discussing the border issue."

The dispute between the two countries stems from Kyiv's controversial plan to improve ship traffic on its side of the Danube Delta.

Under normal circumstances, silt would make navigation impossible on that part of the river. But Ukraine last month dredged and reopened the delta's easternmost canal.

Kyiv hopes the renovation project will boost its share of Danube River traffic to 60 percent from its current 2 percent. Tolls for using the new Ukrainian canal are roughly half those imposed by Romania on the western side of the delta.

Bucharest says its opposition to the project is not prompted by commercial interests. It argues that the Ukrainian canal cuts through internationally protected wetlands and poses a threat to the area's ecosystem.

International environment watchdogs support Romania's ecological concerns.

The European Commission demanded in August that Kyiv suspend the project until an independent environmental impact study could be carried out.


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