AIM: start

MON, 03 SEP 2001 21:56:08 GMT

Slovenia and NATO

Helicopters - Tourist Attraction

Between the port of Kopar and that in Rijeka a competition for the transfer of American military equipment for the needs of peace operations in the Balkan has been going on for quite some time. A few days ago the dispute, it seems, was brought to an end - in favour of the port of Kopar.

AIM Ljubljana, August 22, 2001

According to the contract signed by the American army and the management of the port of Kopar, every six months for 45 days trucks, containers, helicopters and other American military equipment will be disembarked in Kopar. In the difficult competition with Rijeka, the port of Kopar got the job because of its greater capacity, modern technology and better financial conditions. In Rijeka 2500 workers transfer only 2 million tons of goods a year, while in Kopar about 1000 workers transfer about 100 million tons of commodities. It has become publicly known that because of the Storm operation and constant increase of prices of services in the port of Rijeka American army has been reflecting on the change of port for the transfer of its equipment ever since 1995 and finally decided o carry out this intention.

Apart from Kopar it will continue using the ports in Rijeka, Ploce and Thessaloniki. Although this was a business move, there is no doubt that most of the merit for opening of the "logistic centre" of American army in Kopar goes to Slovenian government. The business deal was made with the consent of the relevant state authorities which can cancel the contract at any time.

This will probably not happen soon, not only because of the interest of the port of Kopar to earn a big profit, but also because of the interest of Slovenia which wishes to become a member of NATO as soon as possible. Although in that case, as experts estimate, a great deal of logistic services which are now charged to American army would become an obligation of Slovenia to its great ally. This means that in the long term the "right to protection" comprised in the membership of NATO will be paid by rendering logistic services. And that will, most probably, be the final outcome of the arrival of American army to Kopar.

The whole business deal raised certain questions, primarily along Slovenian coastline. Those who have doubts about the profitability of this government decision warn that during each 45-day round of the transfer of load Slovenia will practically lose its sovereignty in the broad territory of the port. For security reasons the whole region will be specially guarded, and the fact that Slovenian divers will comb through the bottom of the port before the arrival of American ships speaks of how rigid security measures will be. There are also doubts about the equipment that will be transferred at the port. American army plans to disembark containers and other new equipment in Kopar, and to embark the worn out equipment that belonged to SFOR from Bosnia. Because of the helicopters that will be arriving in the port every six months brand new and coated with special protective sheeting, the port will gradually turn into a real military base, because a tent settlement will also be set up for technicians and mechanics.

In practice this is what it will be like: in each shift 35 helicopters will fly into Kopar from Bosnia and 35 new helicopters will then fly towards the south. They are CH-47 Chinook transporters which are believed to be reliable although their weak point is great noise they raise due to which they are forbidden to land on civilian airports in Europe and the USA. That is why fear is expressed in Slovenian press that the helicopters that will soon be flying over the short Slovenian coast could turn that part of the Adriatic into some sort of “south Vietnamese China Beach used by the Americans during the Vietnam war as a holiday resort for its army”. It is also planned that in case of need or bad weather, the helicopters will land on Secovlje airport.

Some mayors of Slovenian towns on the coast hurried to send protests to state officials. Mayor of Izola Breda Pecan realises that the “logistic centre in the port of Kopar is a business deal won by Kopar at the market”, but she fears that during negotiations about the conditions the port “did not pay attention to others” and that the activities with the helicopters will “essentially affect tourism”. Mayor of Piran Vojka Stula also warns that the plans of Kopar which is primarily a transit city are not at all compatible with the plan of Piran to increase the number of tourist visits. Fears of local politicians are not unfounded. If the “logistic centre” in Kopar does turn into a real military base – which according to certain interpretations is not (completely) out of the question – the value of the lost overnights could quickly exceed the profit made by the transfer of American military equipment in the port.

Igor Mekina

(AIM Ljubljana)