Belgium to deploy NATO missiles -- but it hasn't said when

The Belgian peace movement last week vowed to step up its campaign against the stationing of new NATO nuclear missiles in the country just as the nation's prime minister was saying that his government will not take public opinion into account when deciding on the date to begin deployment. ``The essential factor is the security of our country and of the NATO alliance,'' said Prime Minister Wilfried Martens Friday.

His remarks came as several hundred peace activists began a four-day, 55-mile march from the planned missile site in Florennes to Brussels -- the first such demonstration in what appears to have been a losing battle to halt deployment. In addition, a mass anti-nuclear demonstration is scheduled for March 17 in Brussels.

Prime Minister Martens has said that Belgium will go ahead with deployment in accordance with NATO's 1979 decision to deploy cruise and Pershing II missiles in response to a Soviet military buildup in Europe. But Martens said that the government will decide when to begin deployment (scheduled for mid-March under the NATO plan) only after consulting with the country's NATO allies.

That consultation process has now been completed and on Feb. 21 Foreign Minister L'eo Tindemans turned over to Martens his report on discussions he has held over the past few weeks with Belgium's NATO partners. The report has not been made public, but it is widely believed that only Denmark and Greece -- long opponents of deployment -- told Mr. Tindemans that Belgium should abandon the deployment scheme.

Now the government as a whole will study the report and probably take a decision early next month to begin deployment before next June, according to government officials.

So far, however, while opinion polls have shown that most Belgians oppose deployment, the country's peace movement leaders have failed to mobilize mass demonstrations like those seen in West Germany and other European countries. This has been due in large part to divisions within the movement caused by linguistic differences in the country.

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