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Czech Republic: Germany Hopes Declaration Can Be Signed This Year

Munich, 13 September 1996 (RFE/RL) --- The German government says it hopes the long-standing dispute with the Czech Republic over the expulsion of ethnic Germans at the end of the war can be resolved by the end of this year.

A government spokesman told RFE/RL today Germany hoped a bilateral declaration could be signed in November or December after a few final issues have been clarified. He acknowledged that some differences remain among German politicians over the text of the declaration but said most were overcome at a top-level meeting in Bonn yesterday chaired by Chancellor Helmut Kohl.

The spokesman said the German side was in agreement on about 90 percent of the text to be sent to Prague. There were only three issues which still had to be resolved. He declined to explain what they were.

However he acknowledged that no agreement has been reached on the question of restitution or compensation for ethnic Germans� property confiscated by Prague at the end of war. It was unclear from what he said if this is one of the three main issues still to be settled before the German proposal is ready.

The text of the proposed declaration is top secret in both countries. For political reasons, no details of what it says have been released over the 18 months of negotiations. Newspapers in the Czech Republic and Germany have at times published alleged details, but in most cases the governments have declined to either confirm or deny the speculation.

The dispute stems from the expulsion of thousands of ethnic Germans from the Czech Republic at the end of World War II. The Czechs accused them of collaborating with the Nazi invaders and seizing Czech property and goods. The postwar Czech government denied them the right to live in the country and confiscated their land and property. Some of them were beaten or killed by revengeful Czechs, although the numbers are disputed.

Most of those expelled settled in the German province of Bavaria, where they created a powerful political body, the Sudeten Landsmannschaft. Since the overthrow of communism, the Sudetens have demanded restitution of their rights and property and an acknowledgment from the Czech government that the expulsion was unjustified. Their demands are largely supported by the Bavarian provincial government and the majority party, the CSU, which at the federal level is a partner in the German government.

Chancellor Helmut Kohl says he wants a settlement with the Czech Republic along the lines of the one Germany reached with Poland. But agreement was delayed by the hostility of the Sudeten Landmannschaft, which demanded that the Czech government rescind the decrees against them and, in some cases, pay compensation.

The Sudetens also demanded the right to negotiate directly with the Czech government. In Prague, the government refused to apologize for the expulsions or acknowledge they were unjustified, although it was prepared to accept a formulation acknowledging that some Sudetens were beaten or killed after the war. It declined to hold direct talks with the Sudeten Landmansschaft. Prague said it was a government-to-government matter.

The 18 months of discussions on the text of a bilateral declaration have been marred by many arguments and at times have threatened bilateral relations. But in March, the Czech government said it was generally satisfied.

However, Germany said it needed more time because of objections raised by the provincial government in Bavaria on behalf of the Sudeten Landmannschaft, which felt that Prague had made few concessions. The Bavarian premier Edmund Stoiber, who has family connections with the ethnic Germans, is a strong campaigner for their stand.

Germany apparently reached a united approach at yesterday's top-level meeting in Bonn chaired by Chancellor Helmut Kohl. The others included Foreign Minister Klaus Kinkel, who has taken personal responsibility for the negotiations, and the Bavarian premier Stoiber. Stoiber told reporters later that he wanted the proposed text "improved" in some areas but said he did not expect these to lead to a breakdown in talks between the two sides.

Stoiber said the proposed text envisages the Czech Republic regretting the expulsions although he gave no details of the exact language -- which is an extremely sensitive point in the Czech Republic. He said it also considered the possibility of expelled ethnic Germans being able to obtain permanent residence in the Czech Republic, but again he said nothing about the exact wording.

He confirmed that the question of confiscated property was not resolved in the proposed declaration.

"On this matter, the different perceptions remain unchanged," he said. But he added that the final line had not been drawn under this issue.

Much of the internal German dispute over the declaration was apparently resolved by Helmut Kohl at yesterday's meeting. It was agreed that Foreign Minister Klaus Kinkel would meet leading representatives of the Sudeten Landmannschaft to explain developments and the government's position. These are envisaged as being more official talks than the government has previously held with the Sudetens.

It was also agreed that efforts should be made to establish bilateral forums where representatives of Germany, the Czech Republic and the Sudetens could meet to discuss matters. It was emphasized that these would not be negotiations but simply meetings where a dialogue could be developed.