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Slovakia: Dam Dispute With Hungary Goes To World Court

Bratislava, 25 February 1997 (RFE/RL) - Hungarian Foreign Ministry official Gabor Szentivanyi says Slovakia and Hungary are not likely to resolve the Gabcikovo-Nagymaros hydro-electric dam controversy before the case is heard before the International Court of Justice, the World Court. The case is scheduled to be heard in the Hague next week.

Szentivanyi tells RFE/RL's Bratislava correspondent that there is only a "one percent chance" an agreement could be reached in the dam dispute. He said a court ruling is expected sometime this year.

A Slovak Foreign Affairs Ministry official tells RFE/RL that it is "too late" for an out-of-court settlement, because procedural questions need to be worked out.

Neither Szentivanyi nor the Slovak official would tell RFE/RL about monetary issues involved in the case.

The eight-year controversy over the Grabcikovo dam project stems from Hungary's withdrawal from a bi-lateral effort to build a hydro-electric power station. Slovakia says Hungary broke a joint contract, while the Hungarians say diverting water breaches international law and has caused environmental damage to Hungarian marshland. Hungarian officials filed a formal complaint with the World Court in 1992.

Relations between the two countries are also hampered by a Slovak language law. Under the law, Slovak is the only language that can be legally used in public places. Our correspondent says ethnic Hungarians in Slovakia are dismayed that Hungarian-language schools are not issuing bi-lingual grade reports.

Last week, Hungary's Foreign Minister Laszlo Kovacs met the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) High Commissioner for National Minorities, Max van der Stoel. Van der Stoel indicated that Slovakia should approve a law on ethnic-minority languages.

Kovacs is due to meet Slovakia's Foreign Minister, Pavol Hamzik, next month to discuss bi-lateral relations. However, a Slovak Foreign Affairs Ministry official Monday said that no date had yet been set for that meeting.