Paola Lucchesi on Sat, 11 Dec 1999 14:24:20 +0100

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>        AIM Pristina, November 30, 1999
>        The Americans are building a large military base
>with an enormous airport. For weeks and months now, Kosovo
>and partly the world, have been abuzz with rumours about
>civil-engineering works that have started in mid this summer
>at a plateau in the south-eastern part of Kosovo.
>This location is near the village of Sojevo, some 3-4
>kilometres from Urosevac on the road to Gnjilane. Among
>these speculations the most frequently mentioned was a story
>about the construction of a mammoth-size military airport
>which, if necessary, could even replace the one in Aviano,
>Italy. The story that went around was that the interest of
>the West and NATO was shifting further to the East, former
>satellite countries and territories of former Soviet Union,
>towards Near and Middle East. In the public eye such
>speculations seem and sound very intriguing and evoke
>        But they yet have to be confirmed. The only thing
>one can see there is this huge muddy building site where
>people are working and building round the clock. Currently,
>they are working on a 4.5 km long and 4 km wide strip.
>However, according to official data, the entire facility, or
>camp Bonnstil as the Americans call it, should cover the
>area of 755 acres, i.e. over 305 hectares.
>        Only experts can evaluate the military importance of
>this area, i.e. what this American military camp can mean
>for Kosovo and this part of the Balkans. Even laymen could
>tell you that no one invests so much money in a facility to
>be used only by some 5 thousand American soldiers and the
>American control sector in Kosovo, as the Americans claim to
>be the case. At this moment, the view from the camp itself
>does not lead to such a conclusion. The installed equipment and
>materiel mostly include  military "Havis" jeeps and tents,
>as well as a great quantity of satellite communication
>equipment. Those who had a chance to visit the camp several
>times could tell you that people living there have no
>problem communicating with the States, but cannot establish
>contacts with Kosovo. One could see an occasional tank, but,
>naturally, a great number of soldiers. The guards, as well
>as those on watchtowers were armed.
>        According to what we could see it was obvious that
>all stories about an airport are unfounded. There were
>nearly 30 military helicopters on the heliport, including
>several of the "Apache" type and a number with Red Cross
>signs. There was enough space for an even greater number of
>such aircraft. Captain Patrick Sweeney, who is in charge of
>the press, told us that the people have probably confused
>the heliport with the airport and that is how the rumour
>about military airport started. It is all easy to see.
>Airplanes cannot take off from nor land here and there are
>no overflights in these parts. "Had there been any, everyone
>would have seen that we had no secrets", explained the
>American officer.
>        Most of the activities are organised under tents.
>Judging by their intensity and the pace of the works it
>could be concluded that the planned target of accommodating
>all soldiers in prefabricated houses, which the Americans
>call SEA Huts, has not been achieved yet. The plan is to put
>up 160 of such houses for soldiers and 26 for officers and
>non-commissioned officers, with all the accompanying
>infrastructure and facilities, including services. Green
>areas have also been envisaged, as well as recreational
>grounds, cultural centre, work-out gyms and even a small
>hospital for soldiers. Civilians will be allowed to use it
>in case of emergency or medical analyses for which the most
>sophisticated medical equipment is required. The construction
>of a large storehouse for all types of ammunition is
>underway and probably much more than could meet the eye.
>        The prison will be isolated in several tents
>surrounded by barbed wire. The number of inmates changes
>daily, told us Captain Sweeney, but they usually number some
>hundred inmates accused of all kinds of crimes, from grave
>crimes to traffic offences. He explained how judges from
>Pristina come here for the purpose of investigation and how
>they cannot wait to get rid of this kind of obligation.
>Nearby, also surrounded with barbed wire was a kind of dump
>with wreckages of some 30 tanks and other armoured carriers
>and heavy vehicles which once belonged to the Serbian army
>and police. Sweeney told us that several weeks ago, in
>agreement with Belgrade, these wrecks were loaded onto
>trucks and handed over at the North Kosovo border.
>        While we were leaving we had the impression that
>this was a huge construction site in a forming stage.
>Nothing looked finished. The facilities we have mentioned,
>as well as 24 administrative and other official premises,
>yet have to be built. Until now, including the costs for a
>small local camp in Gnjilane, over USD 300 million have been
>already invested. About 5 thousand locals are engaged on
>different tasks. Inside this base, the Americans should live
>as if they were in the States. Question is whether something
>like that is possible since, after all, this is Kosovo.
>Captain Sweeney told us that he comes from North Carolina,
>that his family lives in Chicago. Smiling he also told us
>that his wife is momentarily in Germany, while he is
>stationed in Kosovo...
>AIM Pristina
># Fehim REXHEPI
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