News Sunday, JANUARY 21st, 2001

By Vladimir Tax

Czechs arrested in Cuba allowed to see relatives

Relatives of two Czechs arrested in Cuba last week left for Cuba to visit them. Cuba issued entry visas for Ivan Pilip's wife Lucie and Jan Bubenik's brother Martin late on Friday. Mr. Bubenik admitted that he was afraid of the journey. He is convinced that the two prisoners are kept separately and have no information about developments outside. Former Czech finance minister and now member of parliament Ivan Pilip and a former student dissident Jan Bubenik were arrested a week ago in Cuba having met independent Cuban journalists. They are facing trial for subversion.

US, Germany support Czechs arrested in Cuba

Meanwhile, the chairman of the Helsinki Committee of the US Congress, Christopher Smith, has called on Havana to release the two arrested Czechs. He said Cuban authorities were violating their basic human rights and he described the allegations against them as nonsensical. Mr. Smith said it was unclear whether Cuba was taking revenge for a resolution passed by the UN human rights commission last year upon Czech proposal or whether it was just another act of repression against opponents of Fidel Castro's regime.

At the same time, the German Ministry of foreign affairs has issued a protest note, demanding an immediate release of Mr. Pilip and Mr. Bubenik. The ministry handed the note over to the Cuban ambassador to Berlin, Marcelin Medina.

Czech experts fly to Kosovo because of depleted uranium

The Czech republic is sending 8 experts to Kosovo because of the so-called Balkan syndrome. The team is to work in places hit by ammunition with depleted uranium and in places where the Czech KFOR contingent operates. Members of the group will include also experts on nuclear safety and will be equipped with devices able to measure even very low levels of radioactivity. The Czech army promised to release the results to the press. Although no link has been established between the health problems of some of the soldiers deployed in the Balkans and the use of ammunition with depleted uranium, the Czech army has started organising thorough medical check-ups of troops serving in the Balkan peace-keeping missions.

Czech Rep. to join elite club

The Czech Republic is expected to officially confirm its candidacy for membership of the group of the most developed countries in April. That means that the country will start participating intensely in development programmes and at the same time stop using World Bank funds. According to Czech Finance Minister Pavel Mertlik, the Czech Republic is to sign an agreement on entering the graduation process at the World Bank and IMF meeting in Washington in spring.

Weather forecast

And finally, the weather forecast. We are expecting a rather cloudy day with scattered snow showers. The highest daytime temperatures should hover around zero. The beginning of next week should be a little warmer, but cloudy with rain showers, with afternoon highs up to 5 degrees Celsius.