US army raids Bulgarian sunflower oil factory by mistake

The owner of a small sunflower oil factory in Bulgaria has accused US soldiers of illegally storming his facility during a NATO military exercise last month.

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They had mistakenly believed the factory was part of the training area. Source: Associated Press

Marin Dimitrov, who owns KIM Engineering in Cheshnegirovo, today told reporters that he had filed a lawsuit against those responsible for the incident on May 11.

During the Swift Response 21 drill, which took place across Estonia, Bulgaria and Romania, soldiers of the 173rd Airborne Brigade had simulated seizing and securing the decommissioned Cheshnegirovo airfield in southern Bulgaria by entering and clearing bunkers and structures.

Dimitrov said he had been "offended, humiliated" by the drill, which he said made him and his staff feel "as if we are bandits, criminals, even though we are carrying out normal activities."

According to a US Army statement, on May 11 soldiers had entered and cleared a building next to the airfield that they believed was part of the training area, In fact, it was owned by Bulgarian civilians operating a private business.

"No weapons were fired at any time during the interaction," the statement said.

Bulgarian President Rumen Radev said it was "absolutely unacceptable to have the life and calm of Bulgarian citizens put at risk by military units, be they part of the Bulgarian or foreign armed forces."

"Exercises in Bulgarian territory involving our Allies should boost the sense of security and trust in collective defence, instead of causing tension among Bulgarians," he said.

The US Embassy in Sofia offered sincere apologies to the business and its employees.

"We always learn from these exercises and are fully investigating the cause of this mistake. We will implement rigorous procedures to clearly define our training areas and prevent this type of incident in the future," the Embassy said in a statement.