- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 7, 2001

Freedom networking

Czech Ambassador Alexandr Vondra wanted to spend the presidential transition period meeting with members of the new Bush administration.Instead he devoted much of his time in January working for the freedom of two Czech citizens held in a Cuban jail.

Mr. Vondra helped raise U.S. support for the release of Ivan Pilip, a member of the Czech parliament, and Jan Bubenik, a human rights worker.

Besides being fellow citizens, they are also friends of his.

Other Czech officials dealt directly with the Cuban government and Fidel Castro.

"Their guilt: meetings with dissidents," Mr. Vondra wrote in the Czech Embassy newsletter.

"They finally were freed after 23 days, but only after a massive international media campaign and interventions by numerous politicians."

"I would like to thank all of those Americans who helped bring this case to the public's attention," he added.

"With the memory of our fight for freedom against the Communists in former Czechoslovakia still fresh, we know the importance of human solidarity and support from abroad."

"Good luck … to all human rights fighters in Cuba," he added.

Although helping to free his friends was his most important task, he actually achieved part of his other goal.

"Through numerous phone calls, meetings and conversations in support of my countrymen, I actually did achieve valuable networking within the new administration," he wrote.

On Jan. 21, Mr. Vondra attended his first American presidential inauguration.

"Despite a long wait with the other ambassadors in the freezing, rainy weather, I found the event an extremely worthwhile experience," he wrote.

He was impressed by the public ceremony.

"The mere fact that the president swore on a Bible in front of the Capitol and the very people who had elected him into office gave the event a feeling of ritual, as well as a sense of dignity and power," he wrote.

Mr. Vondra noted that European leaders are rarely sworn into office in grand, public ceremonies.

"The old continent," he said, "still prefers to confirm leaders behind closed doors."

Sri Lankan hospital aid

The U.S. ambassador to Sri Lanka yesterday turned over $500,000 worth of medical equipment to the main hospital in Jaffna, a northern town frequently targeted by guerrillas.

"I am pleased to be able to make this donation on behalf of the U.S. government and am confident that it will assist the highly capable staff of the Teaching Hospital in helping Jaffna residents live better, healthier lives," Ambassador Ashley Wills said.

The aid included anesthesia apparatus, a portable heart defibrillator, dental equipment and therapeutic ultrasound equipment.

The package was provided by the Defense Department as part of a humanitarian assistance program for civilian institutions.

Montenegro question

The United States is urging Montenegro not to separate from the neighboring province of Serbia and break up what remains of Yugoslavia.
"The United States supports a democratic Montenegro within a democratic Yugoslavia," said David T. Johnson, the U.S. ambassador to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.
"We believe legitimate differences over status should be resolved through good faith, transparent negotiations between Podgorica and Belgrade," he added, referring to the capitals of Montenegro and Serbia.
"We oppose unilateral efforts to resolve it otherwise," he said.
Mr. Johnson, speaking at a recent OSCE meeting, also questioned efforts in Montenegro to hold a referendum on separation from its more dominant province.
He cited what he views as confusion in the provisions for amending the Montenegrin constitution.
They allow amendments by a simple majority of voters in a referendum but also require a two-thirds vote of parliament, without saying whether both are needed.
"Therefore, it is not clear how Montenegro's status could be changed without such a two-thirds vote," Mr. Johnson said.

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