Nato radar brings war not peace in new battle of Austerlitz

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The Independent Online

Battle lines are again being drawn up at the site of Napoleon's most spectacular victory, the Battle of Austerlitz, which gave military supremacy to the French Emperor.

Austerlitz, formerly part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, is now in the south-east of the Czech Republic and called Slavkov, which means "place of fame". Slavkov is gaining fame once again as local people, historians and conservationists fight plans to build a Nato radar station on the former battlefield.

Opponents say the 90ft-high radar station, with its bulbous white top, will blight the area's scenery and overshadow the monument that marks the battle site. They fear it could cause environmental damage and encourage terrorist threats.

Leaders of 22 towns and villages have joined activists to apply for a court order banning the development amid the rolling hills and lakes of the bucolic Moravian countryside. There, in December 1805, Napoleon vanquished a combined Russian and Austro-Hungarian army watched by the two countries' leaders the Russian Tsar Alexander I and the Austrian Emperor Franz I. Of more than 150,000 men in the battle, about 36,000 died.

At the start of the 20th century an elaborate monument was erected on top of the Prace plateau, a plane pivotal to Napoleon's victory. Called the Burial Mound of Peace and about the size of the Albert Memorial, its base holds a chapel where some of the bones of the dead are interred. Above it is a pyramidal tower with concave scalloped sides.

The village of Sokolnice, which lies about two miles from the monument, is at the forefront of opposition to the €29m (£20m) radar station due for completion in 2006. Jiri Zivotsky, the mayor of Sokolnice, said people were angry that the government began work two years ago, without consulting villagers, at a nearby Cold War-era military facility. Mr Zivotsky said the village had lodged a lawsuit to halt the work but had not yet been given a date for court proceedings. He said: "The most serious fear is that as there are only two such radars planned for the Czech Republic we will become a target for terrorists."

The area was listed and residents had to obey strict planning regulations if they wanted to alter their homes. "It seems very unfair that we have to ask permission to change our windows whereas the government can put up a big ugly radar station without consulting anyone," he said.

The Czech Republic, which with Hungary and Poland was the first former Soviet bloc country to join Nato, is keen to be an enthusiastic member of the alliance. It says the site near Sokolnice is the best location for the station.

Miroslav Kostelka, the Czech Defence Minister, held a meeting with mayors and representatives of the local communities last month but did not offer any compromise. Robert Pszczel, a Nato spokesman, said the radar stations planned for the Czech Republic were part of an "essential" chain covering the alliance's territory. He acknowledged the terrorist concerns but said: "We all face the terrorist challenge." He said Nato would help the Czechs to allay terrorist fears.

One opponent of the scheme, Miroslav Jandora, said activists had asked Lord Robertson of Port Ellen, Nato's secretary general, to intervene. Mr Jandora said: "We are aware of the state's defence needs, but we trust that a more suitable location can be found that is not a protected, historic landmark."

Mr Pszczel said selection of the site "is really in the hands of the host nation - the Czech Republic." But Mr Zivotsky said the Defence Ministry had ruled out alternative locations.

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