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Hungary/Slovakia: Court Rules Against Both In Dam Case

The Hague, 25 September 1997 (RFE/RL) - The World Court has ruled that both Hungary and Slovakia broke international law in a long-running dispute over a communist-era project to build a hydroelectric power system on the Danube River.

The United Nations' top judicial body ruled today that Hungary violated the law when it unilaterally abandoned the project in 1992, breaking terms of a 1977 agreement with Czechoslovakia.

The court also said that Slovakia broke the law by pressing ahead with project on its own and diverting the course of Europe's longest river in the process.

Presiding Judge Stephen Schwebel called on the countries to negotiate "in good faith" to complete the original objectives of the project. The court has been considering the case since 1993.

Schwebel said the two sides would jointly operate an existing dam and power station at Gabcikovo, in Slovakia. He also said Hungary would have to pay its share of Gabcikovo's construction and operating costs.

Hungary originally cited environmental reasons for justifying its decision to dump the project. Slovakia has maintained the enviromental excuse was simply a smokescreen to save money.

The dam dispute comes amid continuing tension between the countries over the treatment of ethnic Hungarians in Slovakia.

In initial rection to the court ruling, Slovak delegtion chief at the court hearing Peter Tomka termed the ruling a success for Slovakia. He expressed confidence agreement can be reached with Budapest.

Similarly, Hungarian delegation chief Gyoergy Szenasi termed the ruling "positive for Hungary". He added it could help the two countries negotiate a new agreement about how to solve regional problems "in a sustainable way."