Five-decade disagreement over Czech-Polish border appears on way to resolution

The Czech Republic could get a tiny bit smaller in the next few years, if it hands almost 400 hectares of its territory over to Poland. There has been a disagreement about the two states' border for almost half a century - but that dispute could come to an end under the current Czech government.

In 1919 Czechoslovakia and Poland clashed briefly over Tesin in Silesia, when Prague sent its soldiers into the area. After an inconclusive battle, the Allies forced the two sides to agree to a new demarcation line.

However, even after a 1925 bi-lateral agreement, Warsaw continued to push for more territory. Eventually, a fresh agreement was concluded between the two states in the 1950s, which involved shortening the border by 70 or 80 kilometres.

Ultimately Poland lost out, with Czechoslovakia gaining 368 hectares of land. The new border cut straight through the properties of hundreds of Polish farmers in seven municipalities. The result is that part of those farms lies in what is now the Czech Republic, with farmers having to travel some distances to border crossings in order to work their land. They also have to pay taxes in both countries.

Talks on resolving the issue began in the early 1990s, but until recently didn't go anywhere. A breakthrough came in January, when Czech Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek visited Warsaw.

But speaking in Prague on Monday, Mr Topolanek said dealing with this "historical debt" would take more than mere months - he suggested a target of the end of the current Czech government's term, in 2010.

There has been some suggestion that resolving the dispute could involve financial compensation to Poland. But that would not satisfy Warsaw. Rafal Morawiec of Poland's embassy in Prague told Czech Television that his country does not want money - it is primarily concerned with the interests of Polish farmers.

Just over a fortnight ago Warsaw sent a diplomatic note to Prague on the issue. But that is only the first step towards an agreement which could take years to finalise.