PRAGUE (AP) — The Czech government is working to remove a communist-era pig farm from the site of a former Nazi concentration camp for Roma, Cabinet ministers said on Tuesday.
Roma activists have long demanded the removal of the farm from Lety, 60 miles (95 kilometers) south of Prague, where some 1,300 Czech Roma were sent between August 1942 and August 1943 during the Nazi occupation of what was then Czechoslovakia in World War II.
Some 327 people died there, and many others were taken to the Nazis' Auschwitz death camp.
Finance Minister Andrej Babis, Culture Minister Daniel Herman and Justice Minister Robert Pelikan visited the site Tuesday to honor the victims. Days earlier, Babis was reported as saying that the site was just a labor camp, not a concentration camp, sparking sharp criticism from politicians, including Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka, his political rival.
Sobotka, a Social Democrat, and other ministers from his party that forms a coalition government with Babis' pro-business ANO (YES) movement and the Christian Democrats, accused him of misusing the issue ahead of next month's regional elections.
Babis apologized for his words but said they were taken out of context and misinterpreted. He said the government has been trying to solve the issue for months.
"It's an unfortunate site, that the pig farm was built here," Babis said during his visit.
Previous governments failed to remove it, citing a lack of funding.
Herman said he expected the government to complete a purchase of the farm before next year's parliamentary elections.
"We have never been so close to a solution," he said.
Only about 10 percent of up to 10,000 Roma living on occupied Czechoslovak territory are estimated to have survived the war. The current 250,000-strong Roma minority faces widespread prejudice.