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West Germany Waits in Vain for Refugees

September 06, 1989|WILLIAM TUOHY | Times Staff Writer

FREILASSING, West Germany — Red Cross workers at a makeshift tent village near here waited in vain Tuesday for East German refugees to cross the border from Austria.

For much of the past week, the Red Cross workers have been waiting for 15,000 to 20,000 East Germans to arrive from Hungary by way of Austria, but the exodus has yet to begin. Now there appears to be confusion in Bonn as to whether Hungarian officials will allow the East Germans to leave Hungary without exit visas.

Earlier, West German sources in Budapest had indicated that an agreement had been reached to allow East Germans who were ostensibly vacationing in Hungary to go to the West through Austria.

But on Tuesday the Hungarian interior minister, Istvan Horvath, recanted a statement he made in an interview published Monday in which he said that it may take four to six weeks before the East Germans are permitted to leave for the West.

The interview took place a week ago, Horvath said in Budapest, adding that what he said then has been overtaken by events.

No Word From Budapest

He suggested that Budapest, Bonn and East Germany might still agree on a quick formula to send the East Germans across into Austria and on to West Germany. But officials in Bonn admitted Tuesday that they have received no word from Budapest on an agreement or a date for the movement of the East Germans.

The presence of East Germany's would-be refugees in Hungary represents a diplomatic problem for all parties concerned. Hungary wants to maintain good relations with both East Germany and West Germany, but Bonn and East Berlin cannot agree on a formula to allow the East Germans in Hungary free passage to the West.

The East Germans who want to go have been put up in temporary camps in Hungary, where some were reported Tuesday to be threatening a hunger strike. Tent camps like the one here on the outskirts of Freilassing have been assembled at five locations in Bavaria near the Austrian border to accommodate up to 4,500 refugees on an emergency basis.

The Freilassing camp organizer, Josef Kastenmayer, said everything was ready to receive up to 1,000 refugees here.

Volunteers from the Bavarian Red Cross and the Technical Aid Service, a national assistance group, had worked feverishly over the weekend to put up the tents at a community sports center.

Four Mobile Kitchens

Now in place are sleeping tents, each with 10 cots, a number of portable toilets, a big blue- and white-striped mess tent and four mobile kitchens. In the sports center building there are showers and changing rooms.

The organizers have provided the tent camp with a mobile Lutheran chapel. Bavaria is heavily Catholic but most of the East German refugees from Prussia and Saxony are Protestants.

Considerable rain fell over the weekend, soaking some of the tents here and probably making it necessary to place at least some of any refugees who turn up here in permanent buildings. Some cots have already been shifted into gymnasiums and church halls.

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