Czech pig farm to quit WW2 Roma concentration camp site

PRAGUE (Reuters) - The Czech government has persuaded an agricultural firm to sell a pig farm partly covering the site of a World War Two Nazi concentration camp where most of the victims were Roma.

The firm, AGPI, said on Monday it had accepted an undisclosed financial offer from the government.

The agreement is a turning point in over two decades of attempts to close down the farm.

The center-left government of Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka had entered talks with AGPI in November 2016, with the Culture Ministry representing the government in the talks.

"I can confirm that AGPI has decided to accept the offer made by the Ministry of Culture," AGPI Deputy Director Jan Cech told Reuters.

AGPI will get financial compensation from the state, the company said in a statement. The parties had agreed not to disclose the amount.

"I welcome the decision, we move step by step towards a definitive solution of the whole issue," Culture Minister Daniel Herman told public Czech radio. He said a deal could be signed by the government and AGPI in the first weeks of September.

In 1940, first prisoners arrived in Lety, then a labor camp, 50 miles south of Prague. Two years later, the Nazi occupation authorities changed it to concentration camp, with 1,145 inmates, mostly Roma, as of August 1942.

More than 300 people, mostly children under 14 years, died in Lety itself, mainly due to a typhus epidemic, while another 420 were sent to the Auschwitz death camp.

Late president Vaclav Havel and other officials unveiled a memorial at Lety in 1995. The pig farm, which overlaps the concentration camp location, has remained operational although several successive governments had pledged to remove it.

Human rights organizations welcomed the fresh deal.

"Today marks a historical day for the dignity of Roma people, and a historical victory for the European civil society," Benjamin Abtan, president of European Grassroots Antiracist Movement, said in a statement emailed to Reuters.

"Together, activists and political leaders, Roma and non-Roma, Czech and other Europeans, we have turned Lety from a symbol of shame to that of victory and dignity."

(Reporting by Robert Muller Editing by Jeremy Gaunt)