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Belarus: Detained Russian Journalists Reported Freed

Minsk, 22 August 1997 (RFE/RL) - Our Minsk correspondent says that three Russian journalists detained last week in Belarus are expected to be handed over to the Russian embassy in Belarus' capital shortly.

Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka said the journalists would be put on a special flight to Moscow later today.

Belarus Security Council spokesman Vassily Baranov said that a fourth member of the Russian public television (ORT) crew -- a citizen of Belarus -- remains in detention but will in all probablity also be released. He said the men were freed as a "goodwill gesture."

The four journalists -- the second ORT crew to be detained in Belarus over the past two weeks -- were accused of illegally crossing the Belarusian-Lithuanian border. A Kremlin spokesman yesterday said that relations between Moscow and Minsk would suffer if the journalists were not released quickly.

A fifth ORT journalist, who was detained this week as a witness, was expelled earlier today from Belarus. Belarusian authorities have so far said that two ORT journalists detained two weeks ago will remain in jail pending trial.

The incident created tensions between Belarus and Russia. A Kremlin spokesman yesterday demanded the immediate release of the Russian journalists. Lukashenka called the statement "blackmail."