Mon, Dec 29, 2003 - Page 7 News List

Greenies eye land along the former Iron Curtain

DPA , PRAGUE

A former no-man's-land of suspicion and death may someday be transformed into a scenic nature area stretching from the Arctic Ocean to the Black Sea.

That's the dream of environmentalists in Prague who are currently promoting a plan to create a natural "green belt" in the narrow region that used to divide democratic West Europe from formerly communist East Europe.

The Iron Curtain's collapse more than a decade ago and relaxed border restrictions tied to the EU's impending enlargement in May have removed the military element from the largely untouched belt of thick woods, mountains and wildflower fields.

"Rare species of plants and animals threatened with extinction by intensive land use have been paradoxically preserved along the strip of the former Iron Curtain," said environmentalist Jaromir Blaha of Hnuti Duha, the Czech branch of Friends of the Earth. "Creating a green belt would bring them back to the countryside."

The German government pio-neered the project in the 1990s by setting aside land along the former border between East and West Germany.

Germany's post-communist reunification sparked the drive for what's now a series of protected areas about 1,400km long and 50m to 200m wide. Efforts are under way to link the areas in one, continuous green belt from Germany's Baltic Sea coast to the Czech border.

Meanwhile, Blaha's group has started working with Austrian environmentalists to expand the limited German "biocorridor" to include the Czech-German and Czech-Austrian border regions.

Negotiations between project promoters and government ministries in Prague, Berlin and Vienna could begin next month.

Eventually, the preserve could extend as far north as the Norway- Russia border region and as far south as the Bulgarian coast of the Black Sea.

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