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Hungary risks losing NATO funding over delayed radar station

Hungary could lose about Ft 18 billion ($96 million) in funding from the North Atlantic Treaty Organization to complete a nationwide radar system as protests by environmentalists stall construction of a final hub.

“Hungary should sort this out as soon as possible,” NATO spokesman Robert Pszczel said in a December 1 phone interview. “If there is a problem is Hungary, it has to be solved in Hungary. This is not a project that has big alternatives.”  The country's decision to build three military radars in 1999, the year it joined NATO, meant Hungary could get the organization to foot up to 80% of the bill to replace outdated equipment.

While NATO paid a combined Ft 36 billion for the first two stations in the northeast and southeast, plans to complete the system by September this year were met with protests by environmentalists over the location of a third station. “If we can't find a location, we may lose the funding and will have to pay for it ourselves,” Defense Ministry spokesman Dezső Kiss said in a phone interview November 30. The proposed site for the third radar, on a peak in southern Hungary called the Tubes, is the second location under attack by locals because of its possible impact on environment and wildlife.

The original location, on a nearby peak called Zengő, was abandoned because of protests by environmentalists including Hungarian President László Sólyom, who, as a private citizen, joined a march on Zengő last year. Sólyom has since approved the Tubes location.  The Tubes is being reviewed to ensure it meets “military requirements,” and that the plan “harmonizes environment protection and safety interests,” Kiss said. Hungary will decide on Tubes early next year and the new system is expected to be operating in early 2008, Kiss said. (Bloomberg)