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Lithuania: Officials Criticize Israeli Ambassador

Vilnius, 12 September 1997 (RFE/RL) - Lithuanian Government officials today criticized Israel's ambassador to Vilnius for remarks he made earlier this week about Lithuania's role in the Holocaust and its failure to prosecute Nazi war criminals.

In a statement, the Lithuanian Foreign Ministry said Ambassador Oded Ben-Hur's speech Wednesday to a special session of Parliament hindered efforts at what the ministry called "mutual understanding." It also said Ben-Hur's remarks disrupted the current celebrations of the 200th anniversary of the death of the Jewish scholar Elias Kramer, known as the Gaon (which means genius) of Vilnius.

Parliament speaker Vytautus Landsbergis said the ambassador's speech was what he described as "counter-productive to positive efforts aimed at the future."

Last night, President Algirdas Brazauskas reiterated an apology he made in Israel two years ago for Lithuanians' war-time participation in the Holocaust. Brazauskas also promised to bring those responsible to justice, saying Lithuania now had a legal framework to deal with people charged with genocide.

During World War II, Nazis and Lithuanian collaborators wiped out almost all of the country's Jewish community, killing some 200,000 people.

In his speech, Ambassador Ben-Hur said that Lithuanians had rounded up and killed Jews even before the Nazis arrived in the country. He also said Lithuania had not lived up to its promise to prosecute war criminals.