Bridge over troubled waters on the sanctions-hit Danube: The UN embargo is causing upheaval and unrest in Bulgaria, reports Adrian Bridge from Sofia

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The Independent Online
ON a good day the queue of trucks at the one bridge over the Danube linking Bulgaria and Romania stretches a mere six miles; drivers settle down for the relatively speedy three-day wait to cross. On a bad day the queue is up to 12 miles and the drivers somehow have to amuse themselves for more than five days. Nerves are frequently frayed. But the alternative is hardly better. Apart from the bridge linking Ruse and Giurgiu, the only other crossing point involves a ferry service between Vidin and Calafat - and the queues there are just as long.

'It is a catastrophe,' said Ivan, a businessman from Slovenia who specialises in importing and exporting goods throughout eastern Europe.

'It used to take 36 hours for a truck to travel from Sofia to Slovenia. Now it takes at least a week - and costs more than double. It is making business very difficult.'

Like many of the new breed of entrepreneurs that have emerged in eastern Europe over the past four years, Ivan has cut back on orders from Bulgaria as a result of the imposition of sweeping sanctions against Serbia and Montenegro from the middle of last year. He is constantly looking around for fresh suppliers and much cheaper transport costs.

Bulgarians believe they have been particularly harshly hit by sanctions. With fruit and vegetables making up the country's main exports, longer journey times have proved a disaster. In addition to lost trade, sanctions, they say, are crippling their attempts to gain a foothold in European markets after the collapse of the trading bloc in the east.

If government figures are to be believed sanctions against Serbia and Montenegro cost the country just under dollars 1bn ( pounds 650m) in the last six months of 1992 and will probably end up costing more than dollars 2bn in 1993.

Despite its anger the government insists that it has no intention of breaking the sanctions policy and denies suggestions that it already has. Instead, it is to step up pressure for compensation. At the UN General Assembly in New York, it is likely to press for formal recognition of its economic difficulties and some real help.

For many Bulgarians, long used to words of sympathy but very little concrete help, the time for the softly-softly approach is over. 'It is high time the Bulgarian authorities complied with public opinion, which rejects their capitulation on the issue of Yugo-sanctions and related compensation,' stormed the independent daily newspaper Continent in a recent editorial.

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