US troops arrive at Romanian air base

09 Mar 2003

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CONSTANTA (Romania), March 8: An air of secrecy surrounds the arrival of thousands of US military personnel at the Romanian Black Sea port of Constanta in preparation for a war on Iraq.

Ten giant Hercules C-130 transport aircraft and four H-53 helicopters can be seen parked at a military airbase adjacent to the local civilian airport.

A hundred metres away, freshly painted signs warn it is a “military zone”. Police cars patrol watchfully.

Little else of the new airbase is visible from the outside and both the US and Romanian authorities have retreated behind the need for military secrecy, Nobody is saying very much about what goes on in there.

Constanta lies across the Bls. Helmeted guards in flak jackets, carrying assault rifles, keep a tight eye on all approaches.

Prominent among these watering holes is the prestigious Rex Hotel, once residence of former Romanian King Carol II, and now a freshly renovated five-star hotel.

A Romanian soldier stops civilians arrival with the information: “You can’t come in here, even for a coffee.”

Despite the new restrictions on access to their hostelries, the locals are nevertheless highly pleased at the US invasion.

“We are NATO’s advance post in the east,” said one 30 year-old engineer.

Romania — once an ally of the Soviet Union — and six other east European countries were invited last November to join the transatlantic military alliance.

“Their presence will help to create new jobs,” said the engineer’s colleague Adriana, adding: “I’ve got no problem with a future permanent American base being installed.”

Last Thursday a boat docked in Constanta loaded with light tanks and armoured personnel carriers, according to the media.

US officers have been inspecting territory suitable for military manoeuvres, including an area at Babadag, 80 kilometres (50 miles) north of Constanta.

There have also been visits to local hospitals and the US have been enquiring about the quality of medical care and medical supplies.

But other dangers lurk in addition to the perceived threat that Washington sees in Iraqi President Saddam Hussein across the Black Sea — two US servicemen were reportedly bitten by stray dogs in Constanta last Monday. —AFP