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U.S. Replies To Belarus Opposition Leaders' Wives

Prague, June 13 (RFE/RL) -- The U.S. State Department has replied to appeals for help from the wives of Yuri Khadyka and Vyacheslav Sivchik. The two are Belarus opposition leaders who were jailed for their involvement in an April protest against the authoritarian policies of Belarus President Alyaksandr Lukashenka.

The wives had written to U.S. President Bill Clinton during a hunger strike by Khadyka and Sivchik to protest their imprisonment and the charges against them. Khadyka and Sivchik were released from jail late last month, but they now face up to three years in prison for their involvement in the April 26 rally, which was attended by some 50,000 people.

In a letter to the wives this week, James Collins, the State Department's Ambassador-at-Large for newly independent states, said the department and the White House have been following the case closely. Collins said U.S. officials raised their concerns to Belarus officials about the treatment of Khadyka and Sivchik twice last month.

The letter also says that the U.S. continues to support the development of democracy and economic reform in an independent and soverign Belarus, and notes that the State Department's 1995 report on human rights for Belarus pointed out concerns over a number of issues, including restrictions on the freedom of assembly.