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Official Russian Rights Body Criticizes Belarus --> Lukashenka 23 June 2005 -- A Russian government human rights body criticized Belarus in an statement today for the imprisonment and disappearance of political opponents.

The Kremlin's Council for Development of Civil Society and Human Rights made the criticism in an open letter to Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka, which was quoted by Interfax.

The statement said inquiries on the disappearance of politicians have only a formal character, doing nothing really to bring together the international community and Belarus.

The letter said that a free media "virtually does not function" in Belarus and that the situation raises deep concerns and is a negative influence on relations between Russia and the international and European community.

Western governments have long accused Lukashenka of snuffing out democracy in Belarus. However, Russia maintains close ties with Belarus and the two countries have been negotiating a possible political and economic union.