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World: Council Of Europe To Debate Bosnia, CIS Refugees

  • Joel Blocker

Strasbourg, 20 June 1997 (RFE/RL) - Next week's session (June 23-27) of the Council of Europe's Parliamentary Assembly will feature debates on the situation in Bosnia (June 26 p.m.) and on the plight of refugees in the CIS and in the three Caucasian states (Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia, June 24 p.m.).

Other Assembly discussions will focus on the health effects of the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear accident in Ukraine (June 27), on combating child labor in Europe (June 26 a.m.), and on the Aromanians, a small ethnic minority historically related to Romanians that is spread out across the Balkans (June 23 a.m.).

The Assembly's week-long Summer session in Strasbourg will also hold closed-door hearings on the situation in Belarus and in the Middle East.

Three weeks ago, the Assembly's Political Committee invited four representatives each of political groups supporting and opposing President Aleksandr Lukashenka to speak at its hearing on Belarus (June 23, 1900). Council officials told our correspondent today many of the eight invitees had accepted the invitations, and that they expected most to attend the hearing.

Early this year, the Parliamentary Assembly suspended indefinitely Belarus' two-year-old Special Guest Status, which allowed their parliamentarians to participate in Assembly work without voting rights. At the time, the Assembly strongly criticized Lukashenka's dissolution in November of Belarus' democratically elected parliament and appointment of another body to replace it.

The Assembly's report on the Aromanians --often called "Vlachs"-- says that their community numbers 1.5 million, including a large Diaspora in Germany, the U.S. and Australia. Because only 250,000 still speak the Aromanian language, or Macedo-Romanian, Aromanians have asked the Council of Europe to back their demands for state support for the teaching of their mother tongue and its use in religious services and media.

One of the major instruments of the Council, signed by many of its 40 member states, is the European Charter of Regional and Minority Languages, which protects their usage. Council officials say the Assembly will probably recommend financial support for publications in the Aromanian language and fellowships for artists and writers in the community.

Among prominent politicians due to address next week's Assembly Session are Polish Prime Minister Wlodzimierz Cimoszewicz (June 25) and Slovenian Parliament Speaker Janez Pobodnik (June 23). Also due to speak are Danish Foreign Minister and OSCE (Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe) chairman Niels Helveg Petersen and Jacques de Larosiere, President of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD).

The Council of Europe, founded a half-century ago, promotes democracy and human rights across the continent. Since 1990, the Council has taken in 16 new members from Central and Eastern Europe and the former Soviet republics. Its Parliamentary Assembly is composed of nationally elected officials representing all sectors of their parliamentary spectrum.