News Briefs

Ministry to beef up protection against BSE
Deceased soldier may be first Balkan Syndrome death
Wanted ex-SIS member Rudolf Žiak reported to be in US
Radio Free Europe gains wider Slovak audience

Ministry to beef up protection against BSE

The Agriculture Ministry on January 22 announced plans to set up a crisis centre to oversee Slovakia's efforts at preventing bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE, also known as 'mad cow disease') from entering the country. No BSE cases have yet to appear in Slovakia.
Measures adopted to protect Slovakia from the disease will be examined by the Central Anti-Infection Commission. One of the latest measures is identification and strict veterinary control of the cattle imported to Slovakia in the past several years from risky countries. Health Minister Roman Kováč added that blood and organs donated by people who lived in the United Kingdom and/or France for more than six months between 1985 and 1998 have been destroyed.


Deceased soldier may be first Balkan Syndrome death

A Slovak soldier who died of stomach cancer one and a half years after his return from peacekeeping duties in the Balkans may have been the country's first casualty of the so-called Balkan Syndrome, which refers to the health problems (especially cancer) experienced by soldiers returning from the Yugoslav theatre, allegedly from handling depleted uranium ammunition used in the 1994 to 1995 NATO campaign in Bosnia.
According to the Slovak daily paper Nový Čas, the 31-year old soldier from Nové Zámky died September 22, 1998 in a Bratislava hospital. He had worked as a driver for the Slovak UNPROFOR unit from September 3, 1995 till July 5, 1996, and had been sent home for health reasons.
The Slovak Defence Ministry says that no Slovak soldiers came in contact with the 10,000 uranium shells used by NATO during the conflict.


Wanted ex-SIS member Rudolf Žiak reported to be in US

An international search will be launched for Rudolf Žiak (55), a high-ranking official of the opposition Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (HZDS). Žiak, who is wanted for questioning concerning sabotage during his time as counter-intelligence chief with the Slovak Intelligence Service (SIS), is alleged to be hiding out in the US.
Slovak Chief Investigator Jaroslav Ivor said that police have been unable to question Žiak along with other senior SIS officials charged with sabotage. Although Žiak promised to face police questioning after he'd been charged, police sources now say that he has remained in the US, prompting a national search announced on January 11.
Ivor said that Žiak's defence lawyer Juraj Trokan has refused to give the exact date of his client's return. Trokan said Žiak might stay a couple of months abroad, and explained that Žiak is touring European states and the US at the invitation of some unnamed foundations.
Žiak and his subordinates are accused of having carried out 15 schemes aimed at endangering the European Union and NATO membership ambitions of Slovakia, Poland, Hungary, and the Czech Republic. They allegedly launched the "Balaton" operation to discredit political circles in Hungary, and an operation code-named "Bridges", which tried to stir up hostility between Germans and Austrians.
Other reports allege an operation aimed at hurting the image of the EU and NATO in the Czech Republic, while the operation called "Dezo" was to heighten tension over the status of the Roma minority in Slovakia and the Czech Republic.


Radio Free Europe gains wider Slovak audience

Radio Free Europe (RFE) will get new broadcasting frequencies in Slovakia as of January 29, allowing local radio stations to carry the broadcast. RFE had previously broadcast only on AM frequency 1.287 kHz.
On April 19, 2000, Slovak licensing authorities re-granted RFE's broadcast licence. In 1998, conflicts emerged between members of the Licence Council and RFE Slovak desk management over RFE's "unbalanced" coverage of Slovak politics. RFE representatives argued that they had continually invited representatives of Vladimír Mečiar's administration to appear on the broadcasts, but they usually declined to show.

Compiled by Chris Togneri from SITA and TASR

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