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Leuenberger wraps up Baltics visit

The Lithuanian president, Valdas Adamkus (right), and the Swiss president, Moritz Leuenberger, meet in Vilnius

(Keystone)

The Swiss president, Moritz Leuenberger, wrapped up an official two-day visit to the Baltic states of Estonia and Lithuania on Friday after concluding bilateral talks with his Lithuanian counterpart, Valdas Adamkus.

In a joint statement made at the end of the mini-summit, the two leaders declared that Switzerland and Lithuania "would follow different foreign policies but nonetheless shared common goals".

Adamkus also called for further cultural and economic exchange between the two countries.

"Switzerland is the eighth largest foreign investor in Lithuania," he said, "but we must continue to encourage more exchanges".

The Lithuanian president cited the opening on Thursday of a new Swiss consulate in the capital, Vilnius, as an "encouraging first step" towards even closer relations with Switzerland.

For his part, the Swiss president made reference to membership negotiations currently underway between the Baltic state and the European Union.

"We are carefully following the negotiations regarding Lithuania's application to join the EU," Leuenberger said, "since their experience could be useful for us."

"I hope that once the country does join the EU, Lithuania will not forget Switzerland," he added.

For his part, Adamkus said that despite their different approaches to international organisations both countries shared the same vision of Europe's future development.

Thursday's discussions between the Swiss president and the Estonian president, Lennart Meri, in Tallinn, centred on similar issues. Leuenberger expressed his conviction that Estonia would become a member of the EU by 2004.

After the meeting, Leuenberger praised his counterpart for having "given Estonia an identity", as well as "freedom", and for his success in integrating the country's minorities - Estonia's Russian minority makes up over 30 per cent of the population.

He later met Prime Minister Mart Laar, and rounded off his day in Tallinn with a visit to the reading room in Estonia's National Library, which serves as an information centre on Switzerland and its literature.

One aim of Leuenberger's Baltic visit has been to strengthen Swiss ties with fledgling democracies in Eastern Europe, a goal Leuenberger has expressed for his presidential term this year. In April, he visited Yugoslavia and Bosnia-Herzegovina.

Switzerland, which re-established full diplomatic ties with the two Baltic countries in 1991 following the collapse of the Soviet Union, already has close cultural, scientific and financial links with both Lithuania and Estonia.

Last year, Switzerland pledged to contribute SFr3 million ($1.7 million) to a European fund to help Lithuania decommission a controversial nuclear power plant.

The Ignalina plant, which has been compared to the ill-fated Chernobyl reactor in Ukraine, continues to provide nearly three quarters of Lithuania's power supply

Since 1992, Lithuania has received aid worth more than SFr25 million ($14.5 million) from Switzerland, funds which were designated for reform of Lithuania's banking sector as well as health, energy and environment projects.

swissinfo with agencies


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