Four nations agree to speed up plan for trans-Balkan corridor

SOFIA (AP) -Transport ministers of three Balkan countries and Italy agreed yesterday to speed up a long-delayed project to build a transport corridor crossing the Balkans to link Western Europe and the Middle East, officials said. The plan envisages the construction of missing links in a 1,300-kilometer (800-mile) route of highways, railways and port infrastructure linking Italy’s Adriatic port of Bari with the Bulgarian Black Sea port of Burgas. The corridor is meant to provide a faster connection between Western Europe and the countries of the Middle East and the Caucasus region. The four ministers – Petar Mutafchiev of Bulgaria, Lulzim Basha of Albania, Pietro Lunardi of Italy and Xhemali Mehazi of the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia – signed a joint declaration in the Bulgarian city of Plovdiv, saying they would make the corridor a priority. The project, which includes Greece and Turkey, was launched in 1991, but so far little has been done, mainly due to the lack of funding. «The plan was recently declared a priority project for the European Union, so finding funds should become easier,» Mutafchiev told reporters. He said plans were to complete the project by 2015. The declaration, however, set no specific deadlines or responsibilities, his spokeswoman Valentina Luleva said. «This is a general declaration… it is an expression of common will to secure funds» for the costly project, Luleva said, adding that the required investment was estimated at about 2 billion euros ($2.4 billion).