Hope Austria continues to respect 1946 agreement over northern province: Italian FM

Source: Xinhua| 2017-12-22 03:11:20|Editor: yan
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ROME, Dec. 21 (Xinhua) -- Italy hopes Austria will continue to respect a 1946 agreement concerning its northern Alto Adige province, Foreign Minister Angelino Alfano told his Austrian counterpart Karin Kneissl in a phone call on Thursday.

The 1946 accord "underlies Alto Adige's autonomous status, which is a universally appreciated example of peaceful coexistence and economic development between different language groups," Alfano said in a statement.

"The Italian government's commitment to continuing on this path remains firm," Italy's top diplomat said.

The bilateral agreement signed in the wake of World War II guaranteed equal rights to German speakers living in the Italian border province, which had been invaded by the Nazis and which had been subjected to strict "Italianization" policies under the Fascist regime of Benito Mussolini, with Germans forbidden to speak their language and being forced to change their names to Italian ones.

Alfano's remarks came after a proposal earlier this week by the brand-new government of Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz to offer passports to German-speaking residents of Alto Adige, one of 20 regions in Italy.

The proposal sparked alarm in Italy over what is being seen as an attempt to sow division in the ethnically diverse border province, which is largely German-speaking.

Kurz on Wednesday sought to downplay those tensions, saying any such move would only be undertaken "in cooperation with Italy".

The newly sworn in 31-year-old chancellor is the leader of the conservative Austrian People's Party and is governing in coalition with the far-right, anti-immigrant and euroskeptic Freedom Party.

He made a name for himself last summer while serving as Austrian foreign minister, when along with the defense minister he threatened to send troops to the Brenner Pass, a key border crossing into Italy, to keep migrants from entering Austria.

In a recent tweet, the Austrian chancellor wrote that "the new Austrian government will be clearly pro-European and committed to making a positive contribution to the future development of the EU."

Kurz repeated words to this effect in meetings with European Union leaders on Wednesday.

"Kurz's significant words yesterday on our common belonging to the EU and on the firm desire to cooperate with Italy assure us that the new Austrian government will take initiatives that are exclusively based on these principles," Alfano said, adding that he and Kneissl planned to meet in person in the coming weeks.