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West German Diplomatic Offensive Fails to Break Impasse Over Refugees

September 7, 1989

BONN, West Germany (AP) _ The government accused East Germany on Thursday of trying to disrupt talks on the fate of 6,500 East German refugees awaiting passage to the West.

West Germany launched a diplomatic offensive in Bonn, East Berlin and Prague, but the flurry of high-level talks failed to break an impasse on the refugees.

More than 6,000 East Germans frustrated with the lack of reform under East Berlin’s rigid Communist leadership have escaped to West Germany through Hungary in recent weeks.

Another 6,000 are huddled in Hungarian tent cities and nearly 500 are in Bonn’s missions in Eastern Europe demanding the right to emigrate to West Germany.

Hungary promised a week ago it would not force any East Germans to return home. West German politicians said the Hungarians had agreed to allow the refugees to migrate to West Germany.

However, Hungary has since refused to authorize the refugees’ departure, calling on East Germany and West Germany to work out a solution.

Czechoslovakia has taken the same view, the Bonn Foreign Ministry indicated in a statement released late Thursday.

It said Foreign Minister Hans-Dietrich Genscher had dispatched a senior envoy, Dieter Kastrup, to meet with Czechoslovak Foreign Minister Jaromir Johanes to discuss the East Germans crowding Bonn’s embassy there.

Johanes said the refugees’ fate depended on an agreement between Bonn and East Berlin.

Chancellor Helmut Kohl’s chief of staff, Rudolf Seiters, met with East Germany’s top diplomat here, Horst Neubauer, but a statement issued by Bonn indicated the talks made little if any headway.

″The recent public comments from the East German side can only be seen as an attempt to disturb the negotiations and to shift responsibility elsewhere for resolving the problem,″ the government statement said.

East Germany’s ambassador to Hungary, Gerd Vehres, held a press conference for Hungarian reporters and restated East Berlin’s promise that those who return voluntarily will not be punished.

Vehres denied East Germany demanded the refugees be forcibly returned but again characterized West Germany’s decision to give them shelter as interference in domestic affairs.

Hungarian government spokesman Zsolt Bajnok told reporters ″a few days are still required″ before the East Germans can be released, but he refuse to be more specific.

There also were talks in East Berlin on Thursday between officials of the East German Foreign Ministry and Bonn’s representative to East Germany, Franz Bertele. West Germany does not recognize East German sovereignty, and therefore does not send an ambassador there.

Both sides agreed to keep the East Berlin talks confidential.

According to the West German government statement, Seiters told Neubauer that Bonn ″expressly rejected″ an accusation by the official East German news agency, ADN, claiming Bonn had reneged on a deal to clear out the 116 refugees from the West German mission in East Berlin.

Seiters reaffirmed that Bonn will not force anyone to leave the mission’s protection, the statement said.

Hungary, a Warsaw Pact member that is seeking closer Western ties, has been caught in the middle of the diplomatic dispute, because its decision last spring to dismantle border barriers with Austria unwittingly provided a new escape route for East Germans.

While East Germans face numerous obstacles to travel West, they can usually obtain permission to visit neighboring Hungary.

The 6,000 being cared for in Hungary by international aid workers were mostly vacationers who decided against returning home after word spread that a one-time caravan to West Germany would be authorized by the Hungarian government.

Many of those at the West German mission in Prague were caught trying to cross illegally between Czechoslovakia and Hungary and appealed to the West Germans out of fear they would be punished if they went back to East Germany.

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