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Monday, 24 June, 2002, 16:29 GMT 17:29 UK
Poland rejects return of Germans
Polish Prime Minister Leszek Miller
Leszek Miller: The case is closed
Poland has rejected a call from the conservative challenger in Germany's forthcoming election for Germans expelled from the country after World War II to be allowed back.

"I believe these questions are permanently closed," said Prime Minister Leszek Miller.

Edmund Stoiber
Stoiber: Wounds remain open
"The Polish Government does not intend to return to them."

Poland expelled millions of Germans from the swathes of German territory it received after the Potsdam conference of the Allied Powers in 1945.

Their property was taken over by the Polish state.

On Sunday, Bavarian leader Edmund Stoiber, who is challenging Gerhard Schroeder for the chancellorship in September's election, called on Poland to annul the decrees that led to the expulsion.

Noble gesture

"So long as [the decrees] remain valid, wounds remain open," he told an 8,000-strong gathering in Leipzig.

We do not accept equating the so-called Benes decrees and the situation in Poland

Leszek Miller
"It is in Poland's own interests to part in a binding and conciliatory way with this part of the past."

The Bavarian leader added that it would be a "noble gesture" to allow the Germans to return.

Mr Stoiber has already won support among Sudeten Germans, many of whom settled in Bavaria after being expelled from what was then Czechoslovakia when the war ended.

He is now widely seen to be moving towards picking up support from the descendents of those Germans ejected from Poland.

Mr Stoiber has made clear that he would like the issue of expulsions linked to entry into the European Union for those east European countries which carried them out.

Compensation fears

He has in particular championed the cause of the Sudeten Germans, who were kicked out on the order of the then Czechoslovak president, Edvard Benes.

Some 2.5 million Germans were expropriated and expelled under the act, accused of collaborating with the Nazi regime.

The Czech Government has refused outright to repeal the decrees, insisting they are not only part of the country's history but also constitute an important part of its current legal foundation.

It is feared that the annulment of the decrees could also lead to a flood of court cases by people trying to get their property back or wanting compensation.

Warsaw has watched the row closely, fearing it too could face restitution claims.

German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder has also criticised the Czech Republic over the Benes decrees, although he has appeared reluctant to link it to gaining membership of the EU or to transform it into an election issue.

Mr Schroeder's ruling Social Democrat Party have been trailing behind the conservatives, an alliance of the Christian Democratic Union and Mr Stoiber's own Christian Social Union, in the opinion polls for months.

See also:

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