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    UN HUMAN RIGHTS COMMISSION MUST NOT IGNORE SITUATION OF NATIONAL MINORITIES IN LATVIA AND ESTONIA

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    GENEVA, March 17 (RIA Novosti) - The UN Human Rights Commission must not ignore the situation of national minorities in Latvia and Estonia, Deputy Foreign Minister Yuri Fedotov said at the 60th session of the commission on Wednesday.

    He said that Russia is concerned about the humanitarian situation in Latvia and Estonia. Both countries will enter the EU on May 1, 2004.

    "The EU membership should suppose a relatively high level of observance of international human rights standards, furthermore they are regarded as a European value in the EU," Mr. Fedotov said.

    According to him, the main problem in Latvia and Estonia is that most Russian speaking people do not have citizenship.

    "In Latvia there are 480,000 people and in Estonia there are 160,000 people without citizenship. This creates a long-term democracy deficit," Mr. Fedotov stressed.

    Another disputed issue, according to Mr. Fedotov, is reforms of the education system in Latvia, which, in fact, has removed the Russian language, native to 40% of Latvian students, from secondary education.

    "We are convinced that it is only possible to elaborate such a draft of education reform meeting both the necessity of having the whole population learn the national language and the chance of being educated in native language, through a dialogue between the authorities and the Russian community," Mr. Fedotov added.

    The 60th session of the UN Human Rights Commission presided by Mike Smith, an Australian, will be in session until April 23, 2004.

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