West will give £1bn for building projects in Balkans

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The Independent Online

Up to 1.7bn euros (£1bn) will be pledged today for Balkan reconstruction as the West moves to deliver its pledge to shore up the economic and social stability of south-east Europe.

Up to 1.7bn euros (£1bn) will be pledged today for Balkan reconstruction as the West moves to deliver its pledge to shore up the economic and social stability of south-east Europe.

One year after the start of the Nato bombing campaign against Yugoslav forces, senior officials from 80 countries and international bodies began a two-day conference in Brussels, intended to find financing for reconstruction projects throughout the region.

The bulk of the schemes will be on a shortlist of 35 "quick start" projects that Western donors want to begin over the next 12 months. They include roads, railways, ports and bridges to underpin the strategy of encouraging trade among Balkan countries.

One project will see the upgrading of the Blace border post in Macedonia, through which tens of thousands of Kosovo refugees fled last year; another is the construction of a new bridge over the Danube between Romania and Bulgaria.

The conference, hosted by the European Commission and the World Bank, is expected to pledge a total of 1.787bn euros to the Stability Pact for South-east Europe, an international initiative to promote reforms and prevent further conflicts. EU officials had lined up likely funding for about 80 per cent of the projects before the conference began.

Chris Patten, European commissioner for external relations, said the conference was about "the immediate future and making a real difference over the coming months".

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