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01:20, 27 June 2017 Tuesday
Update: 08:16, 01 June 2009 Monday

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Albania, Kosovo hail first highway, built by Turkish-US venture
Albania, Kosovo hail first highway, built by Turkish-US venture

The presidents of Albania and Kosovo on Sunday attended a ceremony to mark the completion of the first highway connecting their two territories.

The presidents of Albania and Kosovo on Sunday attended a ceremony to mark the completion of the first highway connecting their two territories.

Completion of a tunnel under a 60 km (37 miles) stretch of road linking the Albanian coastal resort of Durres to the border with Kosovo will slash hours off travelling time for Kosovan holidaymakers heading for the sea.

Inaugurating the tunnel by symbolically meeting halfway in Kalimash, Albanian Prime Minister Sali Berisha and his Kosovan counterpart, Hashim Thaci, said: "Tirana and Pristina were closer than ever and would get even closer".

Kosovo consists of a majority of ethnic Albanians who say they were cut off from Albania by the "injustices of history". Their flags stood side by-side in a poster above the tunnel that read "Forever".

Albania began considering building the road when the United Nations and NATO took control of Kosovo in 1999 after ousting the Serb forces of late war crimes suspct Slobodan Milosevic, but it was Berisha who pushed the project forward.

"First, this is the tunnel of the union of the nation. We showed today that there are no mountains, no hurdles that could divide this nation spiritually or physically," he told a cheering flag-waving crowd.

The 60-km section inaugurated on Sunday, including a 5.6 km-long tunnel and 29 bridges, has cost 720 million euros ($1.019 bln). Built by a U.S.-Turkish venture of Bechtel and Enka, it cuts through a rugged and poor region.

When the 160 km road is finally completed next year at a total cost of 1.1 billion euros ($1.557 bln) the trip of around six hours to Kosovo's border from the Albanian capital of Tirana will take just two hours.

In the past, Kosovars have had to face a gruelling eight-hour trip, often via Macedonia, to reach Albania's beaches.

"This road will carry ideas, goods and bring economic growth for our countries as well as our dream for national integration and a future in the EU and NATO," said Thaci.

Trying to assure its neigbours the road was a project of peace for all the Balkans, Berisha invited Balkan states to use the road.

"We inaugurated a tunnel that not only unites the Albanians, but also unites the Albanians with the Macedonians, Serbs and Bulgarians by offering access to Albania's ports," he said.



Agencies


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Cyprus president seeks peace deal in Switzerland
Cyprus president seeks peace deal in Switzerland

Cypriot president Nicos Anastasiades said Monday he hopes to clinch a reunification deal laying out a new security blueprint for the divided island during a crunch summit in Switzerland this week. Anastasiades will attend United Nations-backed talks at the Alpine Crans-Montana ski resort Wednesday with "complete determination and goodwill... to achieve a desired solution", he said in a statement. He said he hopes to "abolish the anachronistic system of guarantees and intervention rights", with a deal providing for the withdrawal of the Turkish army. The eastern Mediterranean island has been divided since 1974 when Turkish troops invaded its northern third in response to an Athens-inspired coup seeking union with Greece. Turkey maintains around 35,000 troops in northern Cyprus. The so-called guarantor powers of Turkey, Britain and Greece retain the right to intervene militarily on the island. Greek and Turkish Cypriots are at odds over a new security blueprint, but their leaders are under pressure to reach an elusive peace deal. "I am going to Switzerland to participate in the Cyprus conference, with the sole aim and intent of solving the Cyprus problem," Anastasiades said. Turkish Cypriot leader Mustafa Akinci is also set to attend the summit, which is expected to last at least 10 days. Greece, Turkey and Britain will send envoys along with an observer from the European Union. UN-led talks on the island hit a wall in late May after the sides failed to agree terms to advance toward a final summit. Unlocking the security question would allow Anastasiades and Akinci to make unprecedented concessions on core issues. But they have major differences on what a new security blueprint should look like. Anastasiades's internationally recognised government, backed by Athens, seeks an agreement to abolish intervention rights, with Turkish troops withdrawing from the island on a specific timeline. Turkish Cypriots and Ankara argue for some form of intervention rights and a reduced number of troops remaining in the north. Turkish Cypriots want the conference to focus on broader issues of power-sharing, property rights and territory for the creation of a new federation. Much of the progress to date has been based on strong personal rapport between Anastasiades and Akinci, leader of the breakaway Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus. But that goodwill has appeared frayed in the build-up to their meeting in Switzerland. The Greek Cypriot presidential election next February has also complicated the landscape, as has the government's search for offshore oil and gas, which Ankara argues should be suspended until the negotiations have reached an outcome.