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Belarus: President Feuding With OSCE

  • Askold Krushelnycky

Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka has harshly criticized the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). RFE/RL correspondent Askold Krushelnycky talked to the OSCE ambassador to Minsk to see what may lie behind Lukashenka's outburst. Our correspondent reports there is some concern over who will control the organization's activities in Belarus.

Prague, 1 February 2001 (RFE/RL) -- Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka has developed a reputation for outbursts that vary from the eccentric to the frightening.

In the past Lukashenka has urged his security forces to use aggressive tactics to crack down on anti-government protesters. He is held responsible by many for the disappearances, and feared deaths, of some key opposition figures.

Last weekend (Jan 26), Lukashenka accused the OSCE consultative monitoring group, working in Minsk, of exceeding its powers. The group has been monitoring political life in Belarus and has at times been critical of the Lukashenka regime.

Its most important task this year is to help ensure that presidential elections take place fairly. Speaking on national television, Lukashenka said the OSCE interferes in the republic's domestic affairs and spends money to seek "agents of influence" and "feeds up the opposition." The president was especially angry at the OSCE's decision to establish a group of observers numbering around 14,000 people to monitor the fairness of presidential elections to be held this fall.

He said: "These will be paid people. We did not agree to this. We make contributions to the OSCE, out of which the group's budget is formed. But they finance our opposition, fighting Lukashenka with his own money. Isn't it an absurdity?"

He suggested the election monitors had a more sinister purpose intended to undermine his regime saying: "It's a 14,000 strong corps of rebels. In the morning they will work on the farm and in the evening they will take out rifles from under their beds."

Lukashenka said that he wanted control of the OSCE's budget in Belarus.

The OSCE ambassador in Minsk, Dr. Hans-Georg Wieck, told RFE/RL that all OSCE member countries, including Belarus, contributed to the organization's budget, but that no individual member had a right to control it.

He also rejected Lukashenka's suggestions that his group was improperly interfering where it did not belong. Wieck said Lukashenka's attack was prompted by the OSCE's charges that Belarus parliamentary elections held last October were not conducted fairly.

"We are not interfering in the domestic affairs of Belarus because we have a mandate to which Belarus agreed under the circumstances obtaining (prevailing) in 1997, and we have the mandate to assist in the development of democratic institutions, which is a domestic development."

Wieck said he was disturbed by Lukashenka's suggested link between the OSCE and armed opposition. He hoped this did not indicate an incident was going to be manufactured to unjustly implicate the OSCE in encouraging armed revolt.

"It is possible to organize such incidents but to relate them to the OSCE which, under chapter eight of the UN charter, is an organization with no military element except for disarmament and armed forces reduction, is a very far-fetched (imaginative) association."

Belarus Foreign Ministry spokesman Pavel Latushko said the OSCE was allowed to work in the country on the basis the group was supposed to coordinate its work with the Belarus government, and plans were to be worked out on a "consensus basis."

Wieck said that his group already did discuss and coordinate much of its work with the Belarus government.

But he said the demands for consensus, in effect a veto right on the Vienna-based OSCE's work, was not acceptable.

Latushko would not say what the government would do if the OSCE did not agree to Lukashenka's demands for joint control of the group.

"I do not want to talk about the next step but I believe that we will reach mutual agreement about the projects planned by the consultative group and all this will be done within the framework of meetings and discussions."

Former Belarus Foreign Minister and current opposition member Andrei Sannikov said he believes Lukashenka's attack on the OSCE happened because Lukashenka is worried that large numbers of people in the country are turning against him and that he will face a formidable challenge at the presidential election.

"He is scared of this challenge and it is also apparent that he's not going to have free and fair elections. For this he needs to -- if not to throw out the OSCE mission and prevent any international observation -- then try to, through pressure, [to] control them."

Wieck said that he would be reporting to the OSCE's highest body, its permanent council, on February 15. He does not foresee the organization ceding joint control over its activities in Belarus to Lukashenka.

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