- The Washington Times - Sunday, January 20, 2002

PRAGUE Fear that Radio Free Europe/Liberty will draw a terrorist attack in Prague's Wenceslas Square with its new broadcasts to Afghanistan has reignited a campaign to move the broadcaster from its prime location in the heart of the city.
"On the side of the Czech Cabinet, the decision has been unequivocally made," Prime Minister Milos Zeman said. "I think it is stupid to offer the terrorists a target in the center of Prague."
Mr. Zeman's remarks to a local radio station on Monday came less than a week after President Bush approved funding for U.S.-backed radio broadcasts into Afghanistan.
Since Czech President Vaclav Havel invited Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) to relocate here from Munich in 1995, the station has occupied a central location in Prague.
The building, a large cantilevered structure with a glass facade that stands between six lanes of highway traffic, is a security nightmare.
Besides standing just off a main tourist center Wenceslas Square it is also adjacent to the National Museum, next door to the State Opera House and atop a central subway station where two of the city's three lines converge.
The management of RFE/RL wants to stay put, at least until its lease runs out in 2004, as a matter of principle.
"We're not standing up for a principle, but living it," RFE/RL spokeswoman Sonia Winter said Thursday, adding that it is the policy of the U.S. government not to give in to terrorists.
Thomas Dine, president of RFE/RL, which broadcasts news and information in 26 local languages from Eastern Europe to Central Asia, has also opposed the move, saying it would be "capitulating" to terrorists.
When RFE/RL first moved here, the Cold War was a fading memory and no one considered the station as a potential terrorist target, said Jindrich Marek, a spokesman for the prime minister.
Serious security threats first emerged toward the end of 1998 when the station began broadcasting Radio Free Iraq and its Farsi service, aimed at Iran.
Even then, Czech officials were eager to relocate the RFE/RL headquarters because of the threat. But as they stood on the cusp of NATO membership, Mr. Havel implored the country's leaders to stand up for the principles of democracy. His call won the day and the station stayed put, albeit with a dramatic increase in security.
Small concrete barriers now ring much of the site's perimeter, while surveillance cameras, armed guards and metal detectors have also been installed.
Since the September 11 attacks, security at RFE/RL has been ratcheted up again. Four armored personnel carriers have rolled in to stand guard. And large concrete barriers have been extended beyond the site's perimeter, cutting off a key artery of the downtown road network.
The defense appropriations bill for the fiscal 2002, which President Bush signed Jan. 10, included $19.2 million for one year's broadcasting of Radio Free Afghanistan. Of that, $10 million is earmarked for relocating a short-wave transmitter from Spain to Kuwait.
The U.S.-funded broadcasts, in the local Afghan languages of Pashto and Dari, will also go out over four AM transmitters costing the Department of Defense $640,000, according to Joe O'Connell, director of external affairs for the International Broadcasting Bureau, the administrative body for U.S. broadcasts.
The transmitters will be erected in Afghanistan's major urban areas, most likely its four largest cities Kabul, Kandahar, Mazar-e-Sharif and Herat.
Mr. Dine had hoped to begin limited broadcasting into Afghanistan by the end of January, but Mr. O'Connell says it will be virtually impossible to have the transmitters in place that quickly.
Sarka Kucerova contributed to this article.

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