Washington, 3 July 1997 (RFE/RL) - The U.S. State Department says Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka has misrepresented America's refusal to release funds intended to help Belarus destroy nuclear missile sites.
Spokesman John Dinger said in a statement issued last night that the U.S. is very disturbed that Lukashenka publicly mischaracterized U.S. assistance to Belarus.
Dinger said Lukashenka in comments last Friday failed to mention that the reason for the U.S. freeze is the failure of Belarus to uphold international human rights standards.
In order to release the funds, the U.S. Congress requires annual certification of compliance with human rights requirements.
Dinger said the U.S. was unable to give the 1997 human rights certification and was thus forced under U.S. law to withhold the funds. He said the money is still there to destroy the nuclear missile launch pads in an ecologically safe way and can be made available if Belarus improves its human rights records.
Dinger said the U.S. urges the Minsk government to demonstrate a commitment to human rights and to avoid misrepresenting the facts.
A senior Belarussian official, Ivan Pashkevich, said yesterday that work on the missile sites has stopped for lack of money.
Dinger said the U.S. has already given Belarus 60 million dollars for the nuclear clean-up and another 19 million dollars, previously approved by the U.S. Congress, is on its way.
He said an American firm hired to destroy the launch pads wanted to start work a year ago but has been denied access to the sites.