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Czech Republic/Germany: Ministers Say Past No Longer An Obstacle

Prague, 20 December 1996 (RFE/RL) - The Foreign Ministers of Germany and the Czech Republic initialed a joint declaration in Prague today intended to end more than half a century of mistrust between the two neighboring countries and opening the way to improved relations.

German Foreign Minister Klaus Kinkel and his Czech counterpart, Josef Zieleniec, initialed the declaration that took nearly two years to work out. It expresses regret over the Nazi German expulsion in 1938 of the Czechs from Czechoslovakia's border regions, the more than six years of German occupation and the post-war "flight, expulsion and forced resettlement" of some three million ethnic Germans from Czechoslovakia.

Kinkel told reporters after initialing the document,"we recognize our responsibility." He describes the document as a "breakthrough" and a "milestone," adding that the past should no longer burden Czech-German relations.

In Kinkel's words, "many of the wounds have not yet healed and continue to hurt." But he adds "the past must not rob our children and grandchildren of the future -- political persecution, might and expulsion must never be repeated." He says the Czech Republic will "soon" be in both the European Union and NATO.

Zieleniec, noting how the Czechoslovak and German foreign ministers seven years ago jointly cut through the barbed wire of the Iron Curtain, said today he and Kinkel are, in his words, "cutting through another curtain -- a curtain of fear and mistrust."

The Czech foreign minister insists both Germany and the Czech Republic are the winners in this declaration. The losers, he says, are those who have sought to promote mistrust for political gain.

Both ministers credited Czech President Vaclav Havel with having played a major role in bringing about the joint declaration. After the signing ceremony, Kinkel visited Havel in the hospital where he is recovering from a lung cancer operation. Kinkel later held talks with Czech Prime Minister Vaclav Klaus.

The document, which must still be ratified by the two countries' parliaments, is expected to be signed next month by German Chancellor Helmut Kohl and Czech Prime Minister Vaclav Klaus.

The spokesman for the Czech opposition Social Democrats, Egon Lansky, told RFE/RL that the Social Democrats have no reason to block the document's passage.