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British companies losing the battle to win work in Serbia

BRITAIN'S CIVIL engineering companies have fallen behind their European competitors in the race to reconstruct Serbia.

Sources in the Serbian capital Belgrade told NCE that Russian and German firms have already agreed to rebuild two bridges over the Danube in the northern town of Novi Sad.

The sources also revealed that engineers from Austria, Greece, Switzerland and Germany have been in the country for weeks.

Moscow mayor Yuri Lushcov has said that Russia will donate a £30M, 500m span rail bridge to Novi Sad. Russian engineers were reported to be examining the remains of the bombed structure to assess whether any of it can be retained.

Russia has also said it will rebuild Belgrade's television tower. It is believed that work on the structure has already started.

An unnamed German firm is also known to have secured the reconstruction of a road bridge in Novi Sad. Though Germany was seen as one of the main protagonists with Britain, the US and France in the Kosovan conflict, several other German companies are looking to win work in Serbia.

One source told NCE: 'Germany has always considered Serbia to be in its sphere.'

In a separate move, Austrian, Swiss, Greek and Russian governments have set up an organisation called Focus to look at humanitarian infrastructure reconstruction in Serbia.

Government officials from these countries first visited Serbia two weeks ago. When they left, engineers remained and are now concentrating on restoring electricity supply.

NCE's source said: 'British, French and American firms may find it difficult to win work. The Nato countries that will be favoured here will be Greece and Italy. Austria is also well-placed - and Russia, of course.'

Britain has said that the EU would not fund reconstruction work while Slobodan Milosevic remained in power. However, firms from Hungary, Greece, Italy, the Czech Republic, Slovenia, Bosnia, Bulgaria and Germany are pressing ahead by attending a building and construction fair in Belgrade this week.

richardth@construct.emap.co.uk

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