Tirana, Albania | Aug 05 (Tirana Echo) – NATO will build an air base in southern Albania, investing over €50m in what seems to be the first NATO air base in the Balkans – says Albania’s Prime Minister Edi Rama.
The announcement comes weeks after US President Donald Trump pressed NATO’s European members to step up their financial contributions to the Alliance.
Rama confirmed the news on his facebook account, confirming that the project is in cooperation with the Government of Albania to modernize a former communist air base in the southern town of Kuçova.
“The project which starts this year will transform Kuçova into a supportive base for fuel-filling of NATO planes, logistical support, air policing and training activities of the Alliance,” – said Prime Minister Rama.
The base which currently stores over 100 old MIG planes used during the former communist dictatorship, will serve simultaneously as a national air base for Albania’s poorly equipped Air Force, which hopes to get an upgrade from NATO’s investment in Kuçova.
Commenting on the fate of the old MIGs currently stored in the base, Albania’s Defence Minister Olta Xhaçka said the base will “serve as an infrastructural and logistical support for NATO, while the old arsenal of MIG planes will be kept as an attractive exhibition display at this area.”
Praising the decision, Albania’s former PM and current Minister for Diaspora Pandeli Majko said the NATO base will “serve peace in the region”.
While there’s no information on NATO’s website, Albania’s PM says work should start within this year.
Albania celebrates 10 years of NATO membership next April and the small Balkan country hopes to officially start EU membership talks by the end of next year, following a decision last June by the European Council in Brussels.
Albania is currently contributing to NATO’s International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan, while in the past, the small country contributed to the Stabilization Force (SFOR) in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Albania has also supported Allied peacekeeping operations in Kosovo by hosting a logistics support command, which became a regional military headquarters, NATO HQ Tirana, in 2002.
In addition, Albania contributes to the fight against terrorism through its participation in NATO’s Partnership Action Plan on Terrorism, through sharing intelligence and analysis with NATO, enhancing national counter-terrorist capabilities and improving border security.
The European Union and the United States have asked Albania’s authorities to cut down on pervasive corruption, strengthen the rule of law and fight organized crime which threatens the country’s development into a modern European democracy.
EU membership talks next year will largely depend on tangible results shown by Edi Rama’s government in the framework of a milestone reform of the justice system, which is currently scanning Albania’s judges and prosecutors.
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