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Central Europe: Orban Comments Scuttle Visegrad Talks

Prague, 22 February 2002 (RFE/RL) -- Czech Prime Minister Milos Zeman and Slovak Prime Minister Mikulas Dzurinda have announced that they will not be attending a 1 March meeting in Hungary of the Visegrad Four in protest at controversial statements by Hungarian Premier Viktor Orban (pictured). Orban, in an address to the European Parliament's Foreign Affairs Committee in Brussels on 20 February, called on Prague and Bratislava to abolish a set of decrees issued by Czechoslovak postwar President Eduard Benes before they join the EU, because they allegedly contravene EU law.

The 1945-46 Benes Decrees, among other things, legalized the confiscation of property that had belonged to the German and Hungarian minorities and amnestied wrongdoings against these minorities by vigilantes.

In Brussels today, European Commissioner for Enlargement Guenter Verheugen said the Benes Decrees are not, nor will they become, a subject of negotiations on EU accession. He and other EU officials have said the decrees remain a "bilateral" issue that has nothing to do with the accession process.

Hungary responded to the Czech and Slovak announcements by saying it is still ready to organize the meeting on the planned date, AFP reported, citing Hungarian Foreign Minister Janos Martonyi.

Martonyi wrote that he regretted that the Czech Republic and Slovakia excused their presence based on a historical fact unrelated to the Visegrad Four and which had never been mentioned in bilateral relations.

The region's leaders were expected to review infrastructure development, proposals by the European Commission on financing an enlarged EU, and the current state of EU accession talks.