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Hungary / Slovakia: Foreign Ministers To Discuss Thorny Issues

Bratislava, 19 January 1998 (RFE/RL) -- When Slovakia's and Hungary's Foreign Ministers meet this week (Thu, Jan. 22), one of the top items on the agenda will be deciding who will serve on a committee to implement the basic treaty the countries signed almost three years ago. That and a host of other issues will be on the table as both Ministers meet for the first time, since a scheduled September meeting was canceled by Slovakia.

RFE/RL in Bratislava reports it is also likely the Gabcikovo-Nagymaros Dam case will be discussed. Both countries appear to be inching closer to an agreement before a World Court-imposed deadline.

Hungarian officials say they were a bit surprised last week, as they received a letter from Slovakia's Foreign Ministry, suggesting the meeting in Budapest between Hungary's Foreign Minister Laszlo Kovacs and Slovakia's Foreign Minister Zdenka Kramplova.

Although Kovacs already had other plans, he amended his busy schedule.

Sources at the Hungarian Ministry tell RFE/RL that the most "thorny" issue will be to decide who will serve on a joint committee on ethnic minorities. Hungary has insisted that ethnic Hungarians living in Slovakia - about a half-million of them - be represented on that committee. Slovakia has resisted that idea. The committee, which was agreed nearly three years ago, has never met, as its composition has never been determined.

Hungary says much has changed since the two Foreign Ministers last met in 1997. "The situation now is that Slovakia has not been invited to NATO, nor the EU, while Hungary has been invited to both," one (anonymous) Hungarian Foreign Ministry official tells RFE/RL.

Bratislava has accused Budapest of a campaign to discredit Slovakia.

Last September's meeting was canceled, after Slovakia's Prime Minister Vladimir Meciar told a political rally that he had proposed the repatriation and exchange of ethnic minorities from both Hungary and Slovakia.

Hungary's Foreign Minister Kovacs this month said relations with Slovakia represented the only foreign policy failure of his country in 1997.

Negotiators from each country are also scheduled to meet again next week (Mon, Jan. 26) for another session on their Danube dispute. That meeting, also in Budapest, is the most recent session since last September's World Court decision.

The Court ruled Hungary violated the law when it unilaterally abandoned the Gabcikovo-Nagymaros Dam project in 1992, breaking terms of a 1977 agreement with Czechoslovakia. The Court ruled Slovakia broke the law by pressing ahead with the project on its own, diverting the course of Europe's longest river in the process. The Court also called on the countries to negotiate to complete the original objectives of the project, and set a March 25, 1998 deadline.

Hungary is proposing a power plant between Sob and Budapest, instead of constructing the previously agreed Nagymaros plant. Construction costs are estimated at $2 billion. Hungary has ruled out any type of direct monetary compensation to Slovakia.