VILNIUS - Vilnius city officials said last week that they would eventually eradicate the drug-plagued Romany quarter that in recent weeks has been the scene of violence.
Mayor Arturas Zuokas and representatives of the 350-strong Romany community and the municipality agreed Dec. 9 to provide housing on the outskirts of town for those Roma who agree to move out of the quarter. The houses of those who move will be razed, he said.
Zuokas told journalists that about 50 families have stated their willingness to move out of the quarter in favor of social housing in other parts of the city. He said that any evictions would require more time due to the large line of people waiting for social housing in the Lithuanian capital.
He did not specify when the quarter would be completely torn down but did say that those Roma who refused to move would eventually be removed from their homes by force.
A Romany community official, Josifas Tycina, said that most Roma wanted to stay in the quarter.
The city has increased its struggle against both drug-related crime and unlawful building activities in the quarter. Several buildings were torn down last week, drawing criticism from Seimas' [Lithuania's parliament's] ombudsman, Rimante Salaseviciute, who claimed that authorities should have had a court warrant to raze the property.
In October a police post established near the quarter was set on fire. No one was injured in the fire, and police later arrested two drug addicts in connection with the arson.
The post had been set up in an effort to stop the flow of drugs from the quarter, one of the biggest narcotic production and distribution centers in Vilnius. As the the post was being built, the Roma said they were insulted by the authorities' failure to engage in a dialogue on the issue.
"The mayor had no right to do this without us," Stepas Visockis, chairman of the Lithuanian Romany community, said at the time. He stressed that the Roma were afraid of police officers, and the post, which was also equipped with video cameras, would trouble residents of the quarter.
He said the community would appeal to the European Court of Human Rights if the post remained.
Next year the municipality will continue rehabilitation programs for drug addicts in the Romany community and help Roma acquire personal identification documents, Vilnius city officials said. They also expect efforts from the community to manage poverty and social segregation, children's education and drug problems.