- The Washington Times - Friday, December 1, 2000

Ship of states

A dispute about 4,000 miles from Washington between a small nation on the Baltic Sea and a smaller country in West Africa has ended up here in a diplomatic protest and a street demonstration.

Lithuania is complaining that Equatorial Guinea seized a Lithuanian ship and is demanding a ransom of more than $1 million to release it.

Equatorial Guinea says the vessel was poaching in its territorial waters in the Gulf of Guinea and won't let it go until it pays a fine.

Lithuania's ambassador, Stasys Sakalauskas, this week delivered a diplomatic protest note to Equatorial Guinea's ambassador, Pastor Ondo Bile, accusing the West African nation of violating maritime law by seizing the Rytas, a cargo vessel, in international waters.

"We look at it as a violation of international conventions and human rights," Mr. Sakalauskas said.

The ship's crew which includes Lithuanians, Russians, Ukrainians and citizens of the European Union is also being held.

Mr. Sakalauskas said Lithuania has asked the State Department to intervene in the dispute.

Mr. Ondo Bile said the ship was receiving fish illegally taken from the Gulf of Guinea by smaller fishing boats.

The squabble spilled over onto 16th Street NW yesterday when 15 to 20 U.S. citizens, calling themselves the Friends of Lithuania, demonstrated outside the Embassy of Equatorial Guinea. Holding signs that read, "Free the Ship," they insisted they will continue their protests every day until the Rytas is released.

Mr. Ondo Bile dismissed the demonstrators as ill-mannered and uninformed.

"It is not good to make noise when you do not have proof," he said. "You embarrass yourself."

Lithuania, about the size of West Virginia, and Equatorial Guinea, about the size of Maryland, have diplomatic relations but no resident ambassadors in each other's country.

The diplomatic confrontation ended up in Washington after Lithuania's ambassador in Moscow failed to reach Equatorial Guinea's ambassador there.

Lithuania also tried in London, Paris and New York at the United Nations, where Mr. Ondo Bile also represents his country.

Mr. Sakalauskas said, "I got the feeling they were trying to avoid us."

Small 'd' democrats

Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright did not intend to talk about the American presidential election at a conference on democracy yesterday. But she could not resist.

Welcoming her "fellow small 'd' democrats," Mrs. Albright insisted she ceased being a big 'D' Democrat when she became the top U.S. diplomat.

Before talking about the U.S. Agency for International Development and its democracy-building programs, Mrs. Albright offered some thoughts on the election.

"Fortunately, when I became secretary of state, I had all my partisan instincts surgically removed, so my interest in this election has been entirely academic," she said to receptive laughter.

Mrs. Albright said the strains on the American electoral system have proven its strength.

"For the past three weeks, democracy has been much on our minds. And since November 7th, Americans have been given the equivalent of a quadruple shot of democratic espresso," she said.

"Rarely in recent times have our institutions been so tested, and never has the importance of voting been so clear.

"Although the process has been excruciating, I can't help but be proud of the durability of American democracy."

Off to Mexico

The secretary of state today will carry her celebration of democracy to Mexico for the inauguration of Vicente Fox as the first president in more than 70 years not from the Institutional Revolutionary Party.

She is leading the U.S. delegation, one of 163 foreign missions attending the swearing in of the leader of the National Action Party.

Microsoft Corp. Chairman Bill Gates and Spanish tenor Placido Domingo, now artistic director of the Washington Opera, will be among business and cultural leaders at the Mexico City ceremony.

Cuban leader Fidel Castro, the only nondemocratic leader in the hemisphere, is also expected to attend.

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