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Belarus: Negotiations On Minsk OSCE Office Suspended

Vienna, 18 July 1997 (RFE/RL) -- Belarus yesterday put a stop to negotiations with the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) to open an office in Minsk. Our correspondent at the OSCE headquarters in Vienna says the move appears to be a reaction to recent criticism of the country by the OSCE.

A month ago Belarus agreed in principle to allow OSCE to open an office which would assist and advise in the promotion of democracy. The decision came a few weeks after an OSCE diplomat published a critical report on the police, the judiciary, freedom of assembly and freedom of the media in Belarus. It said Belarus was heading towards a totalitarian state. Since then, the OSCE has been negotiating the details of how the office would operate.

However, last night the current OSCE chairman, Danish Foreign Minister Niels Helveg Petersen, told an RFE/RL correspondent he had received a letter from the Belarus Foreign Minister Ivan Antanovich suspending negotiations indefinitely.

The reason given was that the recent session in Warsaw of OSCE's parliamentary assembly invited only a delegation from the parliament which was dissolved by President Alyaksandr Lukashenka late last year. It did not invite a delegation from the present parliament, hand picked by Lukashenka.

The OSCE and most other international organisations consider the dissolution of the previous parliament to be illegal.

Petersen said the Belarus decision "is not an acceptable reaction." He said the parliamentary assembly was simply following the view taken by other major organizations, including the European Union.

He also said it was wrong to link decisions taken by the parliamentarians to negotiations on the Misnk office. Petersen added that OSCE is trying to persuade Belarus to reverse its decision.