Czech military sends apology

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The Independent Online
PRAGUE (Reuter) - The Czech army has made a public apology for the violent crushing of demonstrations one year after the Soviet-led invasion of Czechoslovakia, the daily Mlada Fronta Dnes reported yesterday.

'I consider it my duty to apologise on behalf of the whole General Staff of the Czech Republic's army, for the misuse of the army and its intervention in August 1969,' the army's new chief of staff, Major-General Jiri Nekvasil, said.

In August 1969, on the first anniversary of the invasion, four young men were shot dead during demonstrations in Prague and Brno and tanks reappeared on the streets. One year earlier, armies of five Warsaw Pact states invaded Czechoslovakia in a massive exercise of force to crush the eight-month-old 'Prague Spring' reforms of the ruling Czechoslovak Communist Party.

It was to the citizens of Prague, Brno and Zlin (formerly Gottwaldov) that Gen Nekvasil - appointed at the end of June - particularly wanted to apologise, the newspaper said.

'It (the army) was presented as a means of political power of the Czechoslovak Communist Party to suppress internal resistance by violent means,' Gen Nekvasil told Czech radio. 'I am not quite sure whether the constitution of that time . . . was violated as well, whether it was a legal action,' he said. More than 19,495 soldiers, 300 tanks and 200 armoured vehicles were used to suppress the August 1969 disturbances, Mlada Fronta Dnes quoted Gen Nekvasil as saying.

Also yesterday, a Czech spokeswoman said that Russia's President Boris Yeltsin will arrive next Thursday for a brief working visit. He is coming at the invitation of the Czech President, Vaclav Havel.

Mr Yeltsin is expected to spend just five hours in Prague and then to continue to the Slovak capital, Bratislava. On Thursday, Mr Yeltsin said Russia condemned the 1968 invasion but could not apologise for it.