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News 06 Jul 17

EU Denies Funding Humanitarian Centre in Serbia

Brussels denied Belgrade media claims that the EU and US will fund a humanitarian centre in western Serbia as a response to a Russian-backed humanitarian centre in the country’s south.

Maja Zivanovic

Ponikve Airport. Photo: Ponikve Airport

EU Foreign Affairs and Security Policy spokesperson Maja Kocijancic told BIRN that Brussels is not considering funding a joint EU-US humanitarian centre for financing, as Serbian media suggested on Thursday.

Serbian media claimed that the Western-backed centre could be a counterweight to the Russian-Serbian humanitarian centre in the southern city of Nis.

But Kocijancic said that a proposed project at Ponikve airport near the western town of Uzice had been rejected.

“The Public Enterprise ‘Aerodrome Ponikve’ (SER) with partners applied with a project proposal titled ‘Water Air Reaction Network - WARN-NET’ for EU funding in the Framework of a Call for Proposals in the Cross Border Programme. The application was assessed to be not qualifying for funding and the EU therefore did not consider this project for financing,” Kocijancic said, adding that this decision has also been communicated to the applicant.

Serbian media reported on Thursday that the project is still in the review phase, after Ponikve Airport last year applied to the EU delegation in Serbia to build a centre for emergency situations, which should cover western Serbia, eastern Bosnia and the north of Montenegro

The director of Ponikve Airport, Sasa Savic, told media that representatives of the US embassy in Belgrade visited the airport and said that the idea had interested them.

“We are waiting for an answer," he added.

Reports about the proposed humanitarian centre came amidst Russian requests for the Russian-Serbian humanitarian centre in Nis to be given diplomatic status, as NATO soldiers in Serbia have.

The Status of Forces Agreement, SOFA, which establishes the rights and privileges of foreign personnel present in a host country in support of a larger security arrangement was signed in 2014 during a visit by Defence Minister Nebojsa Rodic to the US. The Serbian parliament ratified it in 2015.

The Russian-Serbian centre opened in 2012 and says it is involved in “emergency humanitarian response, the prevention of natural disasters and technological accidents and the elimination of its consequences”.

However it has been described in Western diplomatic circles as a ‘spy centre’.

US Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Hoyt Brian Yee told the Senate on June 15 that the centre was a concern for the State Department.

“I am worried about the so-called humanitarian centre, not because of what it is now, but because of what it could become. Especially if Serbia fulfills what Russia has asked for: special status and immunity for its staff,” said Yee.

But Russian Foreign Ministry spokesperson Maria Zaharova said on June 22 that such accusations were “absurd”.

New Serbian Prime Minister Ana Brnabic said in an interview with Russian news outlet Sputnik on June 30 that solving the issue of the status of the Russian-Serbian centre is “among the government’s priorities”.

She expressed hope that a solution will soon be found and that it will be "acceptable to all".

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