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East: Disagreements Still Delay Slovakia-Hungary Bridge

By Genvieve Zalatorius

Bratislava, 20 June 1997 (RFE/RL) - There is a demonstrated need. There is money allocated. But no one in Hungary or Slovakia knows for sure, when construction of a bridge linking the two countries will begin.

More than 600-million dollars in European Union (EU) funds (under the PHARE program) has been allocated to reconstruct a war-damaged, 400-meter bridge over the Danube. It would link the Slovakia border town of Sturovo with the Hungary city of Esztergom.

Hungarian Foreign Ministry officials say that before construction can begin, Hungarian, Slovaks and EU officials must sign an agreement.

The Hungarians have already signed the document, and have passed it over to Slovakia.

A spokesman for Slovakia's Foreign Ministry this week told our correspondent that there is no deadline for signing the document. And, the spokesman said, Slovak officials maintain "technical" construction problems need to be worked out, before construction can begin.

The bridge would connect working-class Sturovo with the Hungarian city of Esztergom, which contains one of Hungary's most beautiful and largest cathedrals. It was destroyed during World War II. Remains of the damaged bridge remain, and are consider by area residents as an eyesore.

While other Danube bridges have been reconstructed, including eight in Budapest, this bridge is the last one awaiting reconstruction.

And, while both Hungarian and Slovak officials agree that something must be done, progress initially was hampered by lack of funds. Now, there is disagreement over size, height and other parameters of the bridge.

Hungary suggests Slovakia is dragging its feet on the issue, because Bratislava is waiting for the results of a World Court decision on the Gabcikovo Dam case. Slovakia government officials deny the case is the reason, and they cite purely technical problems.

Observers also say a general deterioration in Slovakia-Hungary relations in recent months might also make it difficult for both sides to come to a quick resolution.

Ethnic Hungarians in Slovakia this week cited what they call new evidence of discrimination, as it was reported final school report cards this month will be issued only in Slovak. Traditionally, report cards appears in Slovak and Hungarian.

Meanwhile visitors, tourists and residents of the Sturovo border area must rely on ferries or boats to carry them from one side of the Danube to the other. And, officials are saying that, if no agreement is reached soon on bridge reconstruction, the EU funds could be revoked.