Brussels, 27 January 1998 (RFE/RL) -- The European Union has, in effect, acknowledged that --if Algeria's military-backed government is unwilling to accept EU assistance-- there is little the Union can do to stop the on-going massacres in the North African country.
More assertively, the EU has also adopted a set of measures proposed by its British presidency to stem the flow of Kurdish refugees from Iraq and Turkey to the territories of its 15 member states. And it has offered immediate financial assistance ($6.5 million) to the new government of Republika Srpska, the Bosnian Serb entity, describing its narrowly elected Prime Minister, Milorad Dodik, as the best chance for implementing the 1996 Dayton peace accords on Bosnia.
All three actions were taken yesterday at a Brussels meeting of the EU's foreign ministers. At the same meeting, British Foreign Secretary Robin Cool announced the official timetable for the initial stage of the EU's planned expansion to the East. Cook said that in six weeks' time (Mar. 12), the informal start of the enlargement process will take place in London with the launching of the so-called standing European Conference. Taking part in the conference will be the leaders of all EU members plus their counterparts from 11 candidate nations, Cyprus plus 10 Central and East European states --Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Romania, Slovakia and Slovenia. Turkey, a perennial aspirant but not approved as a candidate by the EU, has been invited to the conference, but so far has insisted it will not attend.
On March 30, in what Cook described as the official start of the expansion process, the EU foreign ministers will meet with their counterparts from the 11 candidate nations. The next day, in Brussels, the Union's foreign ministers will hold a so-called governmental conference with the six states the EU has designated as taking part in the first enlargement stage --the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Poland and Slovenia, plus Cyprus. All six states will hand over a formal statement of intention to become EU members before the beginning of substantive membership negotiations in early April.
Speaking to reporters yesterday after the Brussels' meeting ended, Cook admitted that a 24-hour EU mission to Algeria last week had achieved only modest results. He said the EU's willingness to help the North African nation, in his words, "needs to be matched by willingness on the part of the Algerian Government to accept our help." He also said Algeria must make progress toward what he described as "more transparency, democracy and dialogue."
But Cook emphasized that the EU had succeeded at least in restarting a dialogue with Algiers. That process, he said, would continue in talks he intended to have with Ahmed Attaf, the Algerian Foreign Minister. Attaf has agreed in principle to visit London for talks with Cook, who acknowledged that no precise date had been set for a meeting beyond what he called "in the next six months." Cook also said he planned to press the Algerian Government to accept aid from the EU and admit a United Nations investigator.
In the week since the EU mission visited Algiers, more than 70 more people have been either blown up or hacked to death in a number of separate terrorist incidents attributed by the Government to extremist Islamic fundamentalists. The Government last week estimated the death toll in the six-year-long Algerian civil and religious strife at about 26,000. Human Rights organizations such as Amnesty International, which say they base their estimates on eye-witness reports, believe the total is at least three times as high, perhaps as much as 85,000.
The British action plan to stop Kurdish asylum-seekers from reaching the EU that was adopted in Brussels calls for a series of Union-wide measures against illegal immigration. They include ensuring that external border controls are applied with equal rigor by all EU members, increasing police cooperation and information-exchange among members, the training of airline and frontier staff to combat the illegal flow, and the application of equal sanctions on air and sea carriers that carry illegal immigrants to EU shores.
The EU action came in response to the recent arrival of some 3,000 Kurds in Italy in search of asylum in Western Europe. Some European refugee organizations have accused the Union of over-reacting to what they say has been a relatively insignificant migratory movement of Kurds.
The EU funds pledged to the new Bosnian Serb Government will be used to pay the salary arrears of police, teachers and other essential workers, thus consolidating Prime Minister Dodik's authority. The World Bank yesterday also pledged an immediate credit of 17 million dollars, the first installment for a $65-million project to repair water and power networks, build houses and aid farmers in Republica Srpska.