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Czech Republic/Slovakia: Roma Issue Cannot Be Ignored

Prague, 28 November 1997 (RFE/RL) - British Foreign Secretary Robin Cook said today that the problems facing Romas in the Czech Republic and Slovakia cannot be ignored.

Speaking in Prague, Cook suggested the situation facing Romas could interfere with cooperation between his country and the two Central European states if it is neglected. He said the Czech government has been taking steps to improve conditions for Romas and said he particularly appreciates the role of President Vaclav Havel.

Some 1,000 Romas from the Czech Republic and Slovakia arrived in Britain in September seeking political asylum.

The main purpose of Cook's visit to central Europe is to discuss EU expansion. He said Slovakia is falling behind other applicant states because of the shortcomings in its political system.

But Cook said London would support Slovakia's membership in a European Conference. Britain is advocating creation of the new organization -- which would bring together the EU's member states and applicant states -- as a way to avoid new divisions on the continent.