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Albanian Environmentalists Protest Against Vlora Airport Project

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Environmentalists in Albania on Friday planned a protest against the construction of an airport in Vlora – which has already started – close to one of the country’s most important coastal wetlands and inside a Protected Area.

Local and international organisations have opposed the project for years. The so-called Bern Convention of 1979 – the Council of Europe’s Convention on the Conservation of European Wildlife and Natural Habitats –  on Thursday asked the Albanian government to suspend construction of the airport.

“Today’s protest is being organised as an emergency, starting after the decision of the Bern Convention, where it asks the Albanian government to suspend the works for the construction of the Vlora airport,” Joni Vorpsi, from the Centre for the Preservation and Protection of the Natural Environment in Albania, CPPNE, told BIRN.

“Our request today is the same, to stop the works inside the protected area and not to continue violating the national law and international agreements,” Vorpsi added.

Two environmental organisations sued the Albanian authorities in 2022 over the contract for the construction of Vlora airport, claiming that the building work threatens important wetlands and biodiversity areas.

The Albanian authorities in March 2021 awarded the contract to two companies, Turkish company YDA – which built a hospital in Fier as a gift from the Turkish government – and Mabetex, which is owned by a politician and businessman from Kosovo, Behgjet Pacolli. The pair pledged to invest 104 million euros in the construction.

However, in December last year, YDA Group left the project and sold its 40-per-cent stake to Pacolli for 4,450 euro.

Valon Lluka, a representative of the company, said in an email to BIRN in April 2023 that YDA Group had not covered its share of the projected investment and so had decided to transfer its shares, “as was foreseen in the Concession Agreement and Albanian legislation”. He cited “internal issues” at YDA Group. Lluka added that Pacolli’s Mabetex Group had taken on all contractual obligations and would complete the project.

YDA Group did not respond to a request for comment.

Concern over the airport centres on the fact that it lies along an important migratory route for birds flying between Europe and Africa; opponents say the plan is in violation of national laws and international conventions concerning environmental protection.

More than 30 local and international environmental organisations urged the Albanian government in February 2021 to stop the airport project, saying it will cause huge damage to the environment of the Vjose-Narte protected area.

They pointed out that the protected area, covering ​​19,412 hectares, is home to 200 wild bird species, 33 of which have endangered status.

The airport, if completed, would be Albania’s third international airport, after Tirana and Kukes, designed to serve a booming tourist industry in the south of the country.

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