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NATO Destroys Bombs in Adriatic

Friday, August 27, 1999; 4:54 p.m. EDT
By Ellen Knickmeyer - Associated Press Writer

ROME (AP) -- NATO minesweepers have found and detonated most of the 100 bombs dropped in the Adriatic during the air campaign against Yugoslavia, NATO said Friday, easing a threat that cost Venice alone millions of dollars in lost tourism and fishing.

Despite NATO's all-clear, fishermen complained they still were waiting for compensation for their months of forced idleness at port. Some have yet to return to sea, fearing they will snag a bomb in their net, as one crew did during the Kosovo War.

Some cruise lines said they would wait until next year to return to Venice and the rest of the Adriatic coast, and Italians wondered if they -- and tourists -- could truly feel safe at sea.

``If it is true, I'd feel relieved,'' said Giovanna Dorigata, director of tourism for the coast-hugging Marche region. ``But we have to be cautious, and on guard against any dangers.''

Italy lent bases on its soil for the allied air assault on Yugoslavia, making possible nightly bombing runs across the Adriatic for targets in Serbia, Montenegro and Kosovo.

The war disrupted commercial and private air traffic in Italy, but opponents to the war found one of their strongest rallying points in fishermen's abrupt discovery that allied jets were jettisoning some of their bombs in the waters off Italy.

The discovery came in May, when what was believed to have been a cluster bomb exploded in a net, wounding the fishing crew that had been hauling it up.

Italy's leaders complained to NATO that they hadn't been informed of the bombs. NATO acknowledged it hadn't told the government about the jettisoning, which remains a standard practice for warplanes headed back to bases or aircraft carriers with unreleased bombs.

In a 73-day operation starting after the war ended, NATO minesweepers found 93 bombs -- including 10 believed left from World War II, said Maj. Patrick Barnes, a Naples-based spokesman.

The search crews dropped depth charges to destroy the bombs, Barnes said. The search covered a 1,000-square-mile area.

Of the few NATO bombs still at sea, ``we believe the residual risk does not present safety concerns in the conduct of normal and legal fishing activity,'' Barnes said.

Most Italian fishing boats are authorized to work only as far as 20 miles out, far from what were pilots' approved zones for dumping bombs.

Many of Italy's estimated 17,000 fishermen in the Adriatic quit work when the netted bomb exploded -- some for fear of their safety, others in solidarity.

Italy's center-left government, fighting opposition to the war from its own communist allies, had promised the fishermen $55 each a day for every missed day of fishing.

The fishing industry warns it will be the end of the year, or more likely, next year, before fishing crews started to see any of that compensation. Working out the distribution of the money would take at least that long, fishing cooperatives told the Venice-based Il Gazzettino di Venezia.

The ancient maritime capital took a double hit in both tourism and fishing, with a loss that port authority director Andrea Razzini estimated this week at $22 million to the port, $54 million to the city.

Dorigata, the Marche tourism director, said it was difficult to calculate just how much her region lost because of the war, and particularly because of the jettisoned bombs.

``Compromising people's safety and the environment's well-being always has a bad repercussion on tourism,'' she said.

Copyright 1999 The Associated Press

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