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Exercise Cooperative Key 2003

The Defence Ministry has set a 2.4 million leva budget for the international air force exercise Cooperative Key 2003 in September, Air Force HQ commander Gen. Dimiter Georgiev told the press Thursday. The Defence Ministry has set aside 700,000 leva of the total amount under its programme for NATO accession and the participating countries will pay 800,000 leva each. In additional to that, the United States will reimburse 900,000 leva under the Warsaw initiative announced by President Clinton in Warsaw in July 1994 and aimed at helping to advance the Partnership for PeaceТs goals. According to Gen. Georgiev, this exercise will differ from the one in 2001 - the first Cooperative Key exercise held in Bulgaria, with its larger scale, complexity of goals and larger number of participating countries and aircraft. Also, this exercise will use the improved facilities of the Graf Ignatiev and Kroumovo air bases which have obtained NATO approval. "Being the hosts of the exercise, we have no worries with regards to the logistics, communication and navigation either," said Gen. Georgiev.

He admitted however that the accidents in the Air Force in the recent months have disturbed the preparation of the Bulgarian crews. A psychological barrier emerged, that has been overcome with flights and on-ground practice under strenuous conditions.

The pilots who will participate in Cooperative Key were practicing with priority. They have the 60 or more of practice flights each, which is the minimum required for such exercises. The Bulgarian crews will participate in all exercise activities, including evacuation of victims from an area of hostilities and search and rescue of crew who have abandoned their aircraft in an area of hostilities. In another exercise activity, one hundred humanitarian workers will take care of 20,000 refugees, said Volen Kroumov of the Sofia office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees. The task of the humanitarian workers - red cross volunteers and servicemen - will be to build a refugee camp with 36 tents and two mobile infirmaries, and set up the people of a refugee wave coming from two neighbouring countries.