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Bulgaria: Eurocorridors Depend On Regional Stability

Sofia, 26 May 1998 (RFE/RL) -- Bulgaria is hoping to use the advantages of its geographical position to become a focal transit link between Europe, the Middle East, Central Asia and even the Far East.

A high ranking official at the Ministry of Works and Regional Development in Sofia told an RFE/RL correspondent that plans are in hand to develop four basic routes, to be part of envisaged "Eurocorridors". But realization of the routes by early next century depends heavily on stability in the Yugoslav area and on agreement about construction with neighbors.

The scenario, as outlined by the official, is for the Eurocorridors to bring new jobs for thousands of Bulgarians, initially in construction and later with business opportunities for hotels, gas stations, restaurants, shops and tourism generally. In addition, the government would have a secure source for income from road taxes, permits for freights and other activities.

The official also said that as a spinoff for the projects, Bulgaria hopes for a marked increase in trade with the countries from the Persian Gulf and Central Asia. Realization of the Bulgarian sections of these projects will cost Bulgaria about $4 billion dollars. According to calculations of the transport and works ministries, the country aims to must have at its disposal some 50 percent of this sum, secured through credits from international institutions and from its own reserves before 2002.

One of the envisaged land routes would link the Bulgarian Black Sea port city of Burgas and the Albanian harbor at Durres on the Adriatic. That route would aim to handle the movement of people and goods to and from the Georgian port of Poti, on the Eastern shore of the Black Sea, and in turn would hopefully attract transit goods from Central Asia and even as far afield as China. Burgas can handle annually a minimum 13 million tons of cargo, and that could provide the Bulgarian treasury with fees of some $70 million.

However, the commercial success of that route depends in large part on regional stability. Albania, where the route terminates, has been badly shaken by civil unrest, and its stability is still not certain. The Yugoslav and former Yugoslav areas are also potentially problematic for that route.

Two other of the envisaged Eurocorridors share a certain degree of political uncertainty concerning Yugoslavia. One is the route from Vienna, which crosses through Belgrade, then to Sofia and then through to both Istanbul and to Thessaloniki on the Aegean in Greece. The other is the water corridor starting in the Netherlands, formed by the Rhine - Main - Danube canal network, which must also pass through Yugoslavia. The Bulgarian segment of this canal and river route requires improvement. The Danube harbors in the ports of Vidin, Lom and Rousse need to be better developed. The railway connection between Rousse and the Black Sea ports of Varna and Burgas is the last link in this route towards the east.

The remaining corridor runs from Helsinki to St Petersburg, Moscow, Kiev, Bucharest, Rousse and Dimitrovgrad, through to the Aegean port of Alexandroupolis in Greece.

A second Bulgarian-Romanian bridge over the Danube would undoubtedly multiply the transit capabilities of all the land routes. Last month the foreign ministers of Bulgaria, Romania and Greece decided that a new bridge is necessary. The bridge was also a subject of discussion between the presidents of Bulgaria and Romania, Petar Stoyanov and Emil Constantinescu, when they met in the Turkish resort of Antalia last month.

They agreed that the location of the new bridge must serve the interests of both countries by being placed so as to take advantage of the infrastructures on both sides of the river. They decided that a technical joint commission should choose the location of the new bridge. That's long been a point of disagreement between the two countries. The present Rousse-Giurgiu bridge lies in the eastern sector of the two neighbors. The Bulgarian side therefore wants the new crossing to be built somewhere in the western sector of the joint Danube border, connecting either Vidin with Kalafat, Oriahovo with Beket, or Lom with Rastu. The Romanians however want the link in the east, connecting Nikopol and Turnu Magurele, or Silistra and Kalarash.

Following the meeting of the two presidents, several Bulgarian government ministers said they hoped for an early decision on the siting, and they expressed renewed support for the Bulgarian proposals. At present there is only one bridge, between Rousse and Giurgiu, which was built in 1955. It is already overtaxed, and if the road and rail traffic volume increases it will be entirely unable to cope.