Setback for Romanian farmer's bid to graze sheep near NATO base

The case brought by Dumitru Bleja, 63, has turned into an unusual power struggle between US military commanders and the stubborn local shepherd

A Romanian farmer who has waged a years-long legal battle against the state to graze his sheep near a NATO military base suffered as setback Wednesday when he was denied a permit for a structure housing the animals.

The case brought by Dumitru Bleja, 63, has turned into an unusual power struggle between US military commanders and the stubborn local shepherd.

Bleja in 2007 bought a 2.5-acre (one-hectare) plot of land near the Bulgarian border and a year later build a shelter for his sheep without permission -- well before work on the Deveselu military site began.

In 2014, the top US official at the base -- which is part of NATO's eastern European missile shield system -- said that having a sheep shelter so near its perimeter "undermines the minimum security requirements" of the facility.

Romania's defence ministry sued Bleja for building without a permit, leading the shepherd to demand damages of up to 18,000 euros ($22,000) in the event the sheep pen needs demolishing.

The country's High Court on Wednesday ruled in the military's favour, although it has yet to make a decision on whether or not the structure needs taking down.

The base at Deveselu, which cost estimated cost of $800 million, was inaugurated in May 2016, infuriating Russia which views it as a security threat right on its doorstep.