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Last Updated: Wednesday, 25 June, 2003, 16:41 GMT 17:41 UK
Danube's war clean-up finishes
Sloboda, Danube Commission
The river was blocked by tonnes of debris
The River Danube has finally been cleared of debris from the Kosovo war, says the authority which governs navigation on the river.

The announcement follows four years of work by the Danube Commission - an international body based in Hungary - to remove pieces of bombed bridges and ordnance near the Serbian city of Novi Sad.

Nato aircraft destroyed three bridges there in the its attempt to force the then Yugoslav leader, Slobodan Milosevic, to halt his military campaign against Kosovo Albanians.

Six unexploded bombs have also been recovered - including three from previous conflicts.

Munition, Danube Commission
Six unexploded bombs were recovered
The blocking of the Danube badly disrupted trade on the river, hitting the exports of several countries.

Large amounts of rubble on the river-bed meant that only smaller and lighter ships could navigate it.

The commission launched the clearance project in January 2001.

Since then, around 26m euros have been spent on clearing up.

Pontoon bridge

As well as debris and unexploded bombs, the commission has had to deal with poor underwater visibility and a build-up of sediment around the remains of the bridges.

Two of the three bridges are now working again, but a pontoon bridge will operate until the third, the Sloboda, is restored.

Novi Sad bridges before the war
The Danube Commission wants the river looking like this again
The bridge is open for shipping three times a week.

Reuters quoted commission officials as saying that more than 3,600 ships passed through it in the first half of 2003, compared to 5,424 in the whole of the previous year.

But traffic is still only a fraction of pre-war levels, with many companies switching to land transport.

River authorities are hoping to encourage shipping to return to this important waterway.

But the BBC's Matthew Price in Belgrade says that with plans for a modern motorway to be opened through Serbia to Greece ahead of next year's Olympic Games, that may prove to be difficult.

Restoring the Danube
30 May 03  |  Science/Nature
Danube opens for shipping
29 Nov 01  |  Europe
Danube clear-up approved
16 Oct 00  |  Europe

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