ECONOMY

Serbia appeals for more transport aid ahead of Athens 2004 Olympics

BELGRADE (Reuters) – Serbia said on Friday it urgently needed more foreign aid to overhaul its part of a road and railway corridor between Greece and central Europe in time for the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens. Serbia is struggling to rebuild its transport network, which crumbled during a decade of Balkan wars, sanctions and neglect under the rule of Slobodan Milosevic, as part of attempts to transform its moribund economy along Western lines. Handling heavy traffic for the Olympics will be an important test of the process, Serbian Transport and Telecommunications Minister Marija Raseta-Vukosavljevic said in an interview. «We must rehabilitate our roads and rail network by 2004, the year of the Olympic Games in Athens, to provide Western-standard services,» she told Reuters. «Without foreign help we cannot do the job quickly enough. We need funds urgently.» Many highways have not been repaired for years and are heavily cracked and rutted. Lack of maintenance and investment has devastated the rail network, reducing the average speed to 40-60 kilometers per hour (25-37 mph), Raseta-Vukosavljevic said. «This is unacceptable for international traffic,» she said. The most urgent repairs will be directed at a north-south transport corridor linking central Europe to Greece and Turkey. As in most areas of its shattered economy, Serbia is heavily dependent on foreign aid and investment for transport reforms. The European Investment Bank (EIB) and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development have granted 200 million euros ($175 million) in transport aid for Yugoslavia, which comprises Serbia and the tiny coastal republic of Montenegro. Serbia is negotiating another 140 million euros with the EIB. Disbursement of funds is linked to reforms including a new railway law to help infrastructure become self-financing. CosmOTE’s EBITDA margin surpassed 43 percent in the third quarter of 2001. Nevertheless, investors have still to contend with the potential stock overhang from the decision by Norwegian Telenor, one of CosmOTE’s founding shareholders, to sell its 18-percent equity stake in the company; they also must weigh the threat posed by the fourth entrant, Infoquest, in the market.