Pithart visits RFE headquarters

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By Pavla Horakova Following the events of September 11th, Czech authorities have been considering moving the US-funded Radio Free Europe, located in the very centre of Prague, to a less vulnerable location. There seem to have been misunderstandings between the station and the Czech government and both sides contradict each other when referring to the progress of their negotiations. On Monday, the chairman of the Czech Senate, Petr Pithart visited the headquarters of Radio Free Europe.

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"RFE/RL is doing a good job here, I'm sure. But there is also the question of security and therefore the National Security Council talked about the possibility of relocating the station. I was present at the meeting and because the topic was 'moving out' and not 'being moved out', I agreed with that possibility. Yesterday, my colleague Cyril Svoboda said this station is not only our guest, but our ally. That does not diminish the problem of security. We need intensive negotiations and they should have started at the very beginning, when the government decided the station should move."

Petr Pithart summarised his opinion on the matter at a press conference after he was shown around the station by his host, the director of broadcasting, Jeffrey Trimble.

In its recent statements RFE has not ruled out the possibility of moving. However, the station does not seem so keen on leaving its present location. Mr Trimble repeated the words of the RFE president Thomas Dine.

"I can reiterate what Tom Dine said: you don't retreat and run in the face of a threat. You do however carefully consider options and the balance between the need to do your job, to guarantee security and not to give way to threats or potential threats. And that's exactly the process that we're involved in right now. It's not a situation unique for RFE/RL; many organisations in the private sector as well as in the public sector round the world are facing similar difficult decisions since September 11."

Since that time there has been speculation that the station's headquarters could be a terrorist target. To what extent does Radio Free Europe really feel under threat? Jeffrey Trimble again.

"RFE/RL is not aware of any specific threat against this facility or against this organisation since September 11."

Petr Pithart, who is a potential successor to President Vaclav Havel, attracted a lot of media attention precisely a year ago when he helped mediate the release of two Czechs detained in Cuba on subversion charges. Observers say that this time too, Mr Pithart might break the communication barrier between RFE and the Czech government, which the station has complained about. In response to the question whether a mediator such as Mr Pithart could help the negotiations, the station's spokeswoman Sonia Winter said that any offers were welcome.