Moscow and Bonn differ on security

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PARIS - With ethnic conflicts raging in Yugoslavia and several former Soviet republics, European foreign ministers debated yesterday how to prevent more wars igniting in other potential trouble spots across eastern Europe.

But Russia and Germany set out divergent views of European security and East European speakers highlighted differences on how to solve the problem of ethnic minority rights.

The French Prime Minister, Edouard Balladur, who first launched the idea, called for 'preventive diplomacy' to stop border and minority problems turning into another Yugoslavia. 'Ex-Yugoslavia is a real lesson in what we must never again tolerate . . . The problems we have faced for months, precisely because violence has already erupted there, are the main justification for the exercise we are launching today,' he said.

And the German Foreign Minister, Klaus Kinkel, told ministers: 'The conflict in former Yugoslavia, which has brought barbarism back to Europe, teaches us a lesson . . . We must not wait until the European house is on fire.' When it came to ways of solving disputes, the Russian Foreign Minister, Andrei Kozyrev, said the 52-nation Conference on Security and Co-operation in Europe should have primacy as the continent's 'supreme political organisation'. But Mr Kinkel said it was vital that other institutions such as Nato or the Western European Union should not be 'subordinated' to the unwieldy CSCE.

The conference is to create a framework for 10 Central and East European states which want to join the European Union - Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Bulgaria, Romania, Slovenia, Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia - to negotiate accords with each other and their eastern neighbours.

In an added incentive, Mr Balladur and the German Chancellor, Helmut Kohl, proposed in a joint article in Le Monde that the EU hold an annual summit with the leaders of east European candidate states to deepen co-operation.

Mr Kozyrev avoided saying whether Moscow would join a regional round table with the Baltic states.