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News 19 Aug 13

UNESCO to Probe Risk to Ohrid, Macedonia

UNESCO is sending a team to the Macedonian lakeside city of Ohrid to inspect whether extensive construction plans there could endanger its status as protected heritage site.

Sinisa Jakov Marusic

The UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, UNESCO, is to probe whether state-funded construction of a university on Plaosnik hill, overlooking the city, poses a threat to Ohrid's coveted heritage status.

They are also to inspect plans for a plush tourist resort in the middle of the national nature park.

“Our commission will check to ensure that negative effects for the state of Ohrid are avoided,” Petya Totcharova, UNESCO’s chief in charge of Europe and North America, said.

The team is due to arrive in Macedonia in September or October. “The commission of experts will not only review Plaosnik but also the plans for a new project near St Naum [a nearby medieval monastery]," she said. "We are equally worried about that.” Tocharova added.

Ohrid and its surroundings are Macedonia’s main tourist hot spot.

Ohrid is one of only 28 sites across the world that have been named a UNESCO World Heritage site in both the culture and nature categories.

Ohrid Lake is one of the largest in the Balkans. Located between Macedonia and Albania, it is the deepest freshwater system in the Balkans with a maximum depth of 300 metres. Along with the nearby Galicica mountain, it is is home to many endemic species.

Along with its natural beauty, what makes Ohrid special for many tourists is its rich cultural heritage. The town is full of old churches, picturesque houses and monuments dating back centuries.

But recent development plans have some experts worried. The government-funded plan envisages the construction of a university complex on the hill above the old core of the city. The problem is that the complex, costing over 20 million euro, is due to be built on top of a valuable archeological dig.

Earlier this year, Indian billionaire Subrata Roy unveiled plans to build a luxury recreational complex on the shores of Lake Ohrid.

The complex will be developed across 240 hectares around Lake Ohrid near Ljubanista village, in the middle of the Galicica national park.

It will include luxury hotels, a floating hotel, casinos, residential and recreational facilities and an international-standard golf course.

Revoking the status of UNESCO protected heritage site is not unheard-of.

In 2007, a sanctuary in Oman for the rare Orix antelope was removed from UNESCO's World Heritage list, following a decision of the authorities in the Gulf state to reduce the size of the sanctuary in the search for oil.

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