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Belarus: OSCE Mission To Talk To Government And Opposition Leaders

Munich, 14 April 1997 (RFE/RL) - A mission from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) travels to Belarus tomorrow for talks with government and opposition leaders about the political and human rights situation.

An OSCE spokesman today tells RFE/RL that the six-person delegation will remain until Friday. It expects to have a meeting with President Alyaksandr Lukashenka and other government leaders, and hopes to meeting leading figures in the opposition. The OSCE spokesman said the Belarus authorities had promised the mission full access to whomever the delegation wants to meet.

The delegation is lead by an experienced Danish diplomat, Rudolf Thorning-Petersen. The other members include Danish diplomats and members of international organisations such as OSCE's human rights- monitoring organization in Warsaw -- the Organization for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR).

Thorning-Petersen was briefed today by a member of the New York -based Human Rights Watch organisation who was in Belarus last week.

It is the first OSCE mission to Belarus since a top diplomat was sent there at the end of November to protest parliamentary elections, which most of the international community considers illegal. The diplomat offered OSCE's assistance in building a democratic society in Belarus. President Lukashenka rejected the criticisms, and said he did not need OSCE's assistance.

OSCE hoped to send a mission of enquiry to Belarus last month, but the trip was cancelled when it became clear it would be prevented from meeting members of the opposition.

Several Western countries, particularly the United States, have joined the OSCE in criticizing the legality of last November's elections and the continuing political situation in Belarus. The United States and the European Union tried to include a statement about their concerns in the final document of the OSCE summit meeting in Lisbon last December, but it was vetoed by Belaraus itself, and by Russia.

In February, the U.S. delegation to the OSCE circulated a statement saying it was restricting its relations with Belarus. The statement said: "The U.S. has not chosen to disengage from Belarus, rather, Belarus has isolated itself by rejecting international political and economic norms." The statement said the current Belarus parliament "was created in a clearly undemocratic process," and, therefore, the United States would confine dealings with it to a minimum. Washington also criticised the new membership of the Constitutional Court, saying it "reflects the concentration of power by the executive branch in Belarus."