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WWF says Croatia is destroying 'Europe's Amazon'
by Staff Writers
Zagreb (AFP) June 17, 2011

Croatia's waterway management plans, being enforced as the country closes in on European Union membership, could destroy Europe's largest river protected area, nature defenders WWF said Friday.

The environmental watchdog said that "111 kilometres (69 miles) of 'Europe's Amazon', comprising parts of the natural meandering river stretches of the Danube, Drava and Mura rivers in Croatia, could be channelled in a way that would destroy Europe's largest river protected area without bringing any real economic benefit to the region."

Three major river regulation projects in the border area with Hungary and Serbia, that Croatia has tried to implement since 2008, comprise construction of 190 new structures, and include dredging gravel and sand from the natural river beds to increase navigation and flood protection.

However, environmental groups deem it unnecessary, the WWF statement said.

"The enforcement of such outdated projects just before Croatia's admission to the EU is a big scandal," it quoted Arno Mohl, a WWF project coordinator, as saying.

He labelled the plans the "biggest threat to the Danube, Drava and Mura in Croatia in the last 30 years" and called for them to be stopped immediately.

In March, five central European countries -- Austria, Croatia, Hungary, Serbia and Slovenia -- signed a deal to launch a cross-border nature reserve.

It paved the way for the creation of the world's first five-country protected area, described as 'Europe's Amazon' because of its rich biodiversity.

The reserve will create Europe's largest riverine protected area, covering 700 kilometres (435 miles) along the Danube, Drava and Mura rivers.

It includes rare floodplain forests and river islands and is home to Europe's highest density of breeding pairs of white-tailed eagle and endangered species such as the little tern, black stork and otters, WWF said.

Earlier this month the European Commission gave Croatia the green light to complete EU accession talks and become the bloc's next member on July 1, 2013.

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