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Czech Republic: Kavan Rejects Calls For Resignation As UN General Assembly President

United Nations, 24 July 2002 (RFE/RL) -- Former Czech Foreign Minister Jan Kavan has dismissed calls from Czech President Vaclav Havel and others that he resign his post as president of the next United Nations General Assembly.

Kavan told RFE/RL in an interview late yesterday outside the General Assembly hall that it was "absurd" to link him with the actions of a former aide charged in a murder plot. "I really see no reason [to resign] and I do think this is just an example of a highly politicized atmosphere and I do believe that common sense and rational thinking will soon prevail," Kavan said.

The former aide that is under suspicion, Karel Srba, has been arrested with three others on suspicion of plotting to kill an investigative reporter for the Czech daily "Mlada fronta Dnes." The reporter, Sabina Slonkova, had written a series of articles describing what she said was a suspicious commercial leasing deal by the Foreign Ministry when Kavan was foreign minister.

Srba was forced to resign as the ministry's secretary-general in March 2001 over his involvement in the affair. In his interview with RFE/RL, Kavan repeated a previous comment that Srba's resignation was a commendable sign of how a civil servant should behave. He said a criminal investigation under way for nearly two years has so far proved no wrongdoing in the affair.

But Kavan also said he has lost contact with Srba since his resignation and can in no way be held responsible for Srba's actions since then. He rejected the call to resign his UN post that was made yesterday by Czech officials, including Havel.

Presidential spokesperson Ladislav Spacek, speaking to reporters yesterday in Prague, said Havel had suggested that Kavan consider resigning. Spacek cited the president as saying, "After all the experiences with Jan Kavan from the recent and not so recent past, with his peculiar connections and personnel policy, it would be suitable for Jan Kavan to think over his competence to carry out some of the functions he occupies."

In addition to being president of the next UN General Assembly, Kavan is still a deputy for the ruling Social Democrats in the lower house of the Czech parliament.

Spacek also said Havel is "shocked and appalled" by allegations that Srba was involved in organizing the plot to murder the "Mlada fronta Dnes" reporter. Czech Senator and former Foreign Minister Josef Zieleniec has also called for Kavan to step down.

Kavan said yesterday he hoped there would be a full investigation of the murder plot, adding it would be "terrible" if it turned out to be true. "At this moment, we know too little about all the circumstances. All one can do is to ensure that the whole case will be thoroughly investigated -- and I do mean all aspects -- and then the results of the investigation should be publicized," Kavan said.

Officials at the United Nations say Kavan's connection to a suspect in a murder plot has so far stirred little apparent concern among diplomats.

Kavan said the issue was not discussed in a meeting he had yesterday with UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan. He said one initial response he has received from diplomats is that they regard the topic as strictly an internal Czech affair. "The other reaction I got [from diplomats] was an expression of support and solidarity in saying, 'We believe that the Czech Republic is a legal state; this is an exaggerated response and we are sure this thing will calm down soon,'" Kavan said.

Kavan was elected earlier this month by the UN's 189 member states to preside over the 57th annual session, which opens on 10 September.

UN officials say the resignation of an assembly president would be unprecedented. There have been cases in which General Assembly presidents who were acting foreign ministers lost their government jobs in cabinet shuffles. Such was the case with Kavan's predecessor Han Seung-soo, a former South Korean foreign minister. But even so, he was able to remain in his position as General Assembly president.