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Czechs Will Cut Army, Remove Fortifications : East Bloc: The defense chief also says steps are being taken to end Communist Party cells in the military.

December 16, 1989|DAVID LAUTER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

PRAGUE, Czechoslovakia — Defense Minister Miroslav Vacek announced Friday that Czechoslovakia will begin immediately to reduce the size of its army and remove the fortifications along its border with West Germany.

"The army does not need these barriers for the defense of our country," Gen. Vacek said at a press conference.

Vacek declined to give specific figures on the extent of the reduction planned for the military. Present strength is put at roughly 200,000. The only specific figure he gave was that the armed forces will require 90,000 fewer reservists next year than planned.

But it is clear that the new steps, coming at the same time as negotiations on the withdrawal of about 70,000 Soviet troops, will mark a significant reduction in the militarization of the country.

Vacek said he supports the goal of removing Soviet troops, although "as a soldier" he would prefer to see the reduction done in the context of overall troop cuts by the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and the Warsaw Pact.

At the same time, Vacek said, the military command is taking steps to remove politics from the army, eliminating the Communist Party cells in the ranks.

Separately, the Communist Party Presidium announced that party cells will be eliminated from the internal security services, prosecutors' offices, government ministries and the border patrol, yet another step in the party's retreat from power. Party officials continue to insist, however, that they should retain the authority to organize party units in workplaces. These have been under attack here and elsewhere in Eastern Europe.

The announcements came as Czechoslovakia's new government, in which Communists are a minority, concentrated on the tasks ahead.

At the Communications Ministry, officials announced new steps designed to restrict telephone tapping. But Deputy Prime Minister Jan Carnogursky admitted that the government must move carefully as it works to bring the security forces under the rule of law.

Finance Minister Vaclav Klaus pledged to resist pressure for higher wages, which he admitted is certain to come after the government begins devaluing the currency and reducing subsidies to allow the economy to be opened to the international market.

Government leaders met with wealthy Czechoslovak expatriate Thomas Bata, an industrialist now based in Canada, but they heard no pledge of new investment to help modernize the economy. Instead, at a press conference, Bata repeated his long-standing demand that Czechoslovakia return to him factories that were nationalized after World War II. "We are not dealing with the question of investment," he said.

Labor Minister Petr Miller said he had replaced several senior deputies with a new team that will support the government's economic plans.

Miller said his aides were drawing up a list of senior Communist Party officials who have been drawing unauthorized government pensions. The full list, which includes several prominent names, will be made public after it is presented to the Cabinet, he said.

The pensions will join a long list of publicized financial abuses that have diminished what remained of the Communists' credibility with the people. The financial abuses revealed so far do not appear to be as flagrant as those that have outraged citizens of neighboring East Germany. But Czechoslovak television has carried frequent reports of special mountain lodges reserved for party members, houses sold to party insiders at reduced prices and similar forms of corruption.

As public disgust with the party mounts, the fight over party cells in factories could be the Communists' last stand. Such cells have existed in Czechoslovakia since the 1920s, two decades before the party took power here, the Communists argue. Rather than eliminate the cells, they argue, others should be created by other parties.

Leaders of the anti-Communist Civic Forum argue that the cells have been a key means by which the party kept control over society, using them to monitor political dissent and to guarantee good jobs for party members. The organizations will have to be closed to eliminate these practices, they say.

CHANGE IN BELGRADE--Yugoslavia's Communist Party proposes reforms. A12

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