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Belarus: Lukashenka Says Yeltsin 'Misinformed' About Journalists' Arrest

Minsk, 31 July 1997 (RFE/RL) - Belarus President Alyaksandr Lukashenka has rejected critical remarks by Russian President Boris Yeltsin about the arrest last weekend of a Russian television news crew. Lukashenka told reporters in Minsk today that Yeltsin had been deliberately misled by opponents of the union treaty he signed earlier this year with Belarus.

Lukashenka mentioned Russian First Deputy Prime Minister Anatoly Chubais and former Prime Minister Yegor Gaidar as among "the worst enemies of Belarusian-Russian integration."

Lukashenka charged that Belarus law enforcement agencies had seized documents he said proved that the detained ORT reporter, Pavel Sheremet, had cooperated with foreign spy agencies, without naming which agencies. He said he would provide details to Yeltsin only after the Russian president orders a halt to what Lukashenka says is an information war being waged against him by the Russian media.

Yeltsin yesterday expressed surprise and indignation over the arrests and warned the incident could prompt him to revise the union agreement between the two Slavic states.

But Lukashenka's office says it is unacceptable that the current and future union of Russia and Belarus be put in doubt by what it terms the "banal provocation of one man". The statement accuses ORT's Minsk correspondent Pavel Sheremet of seeking celebrity at any price.

The statement warned that Belarus will not tolerate any outside interference.

The three-man ORT crew was taken into custody last Saturday after being accused of illegally crossing into Belarus from Lithuania. Charges have been filed formally against Sheremet and his cameraman, Dmitri Zavadsky. Their driver is still being detained, but no charges have yet been filed against him. The two will be held pending trial. If found guilty, they could face up to five years in jail. The crew is being held in a KGB cell in Hrodno (Grodno).