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Belarus/Russia: Primakov To Travel To Minsk Over ORT Journalists

Moscow, 25 August 1997 (RFE/RL) - Russian President Boris Yeltsin today instructed Foreign Minister Yevgeny Primakov to travel to Minsk to "settle the row" concerning the three Belarusian ORT journalists still in jail. Primakov has described the arrests of Russian journalists in Belarus as unacceptable. But he also has said that Russia needs the union with Belarus and will do everything to reinforce it.

Yeltsin's press-secretary, Sergei Yastrzhembsky, said Yeltsin met Primakov today in the Kremlin to discuss foreign affairs priorities.

Interfax news agency quoted Yeltsin as telling Primakov that he has to go to Minsk to bring an end to the matter involving the journalists. However, Interfax said no date for the trip was set.

Yesterday Yastrzhembsky told Russian television that Yeltsin wants the three journalists freed before Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka visits Moscow. Lukashenka's visit is set for the first weekend in September.

The three journalists are at the center of a row which also involved three Russian journalists. All six, who worked for Russia's ORT-TV, were detained recently in Belarus for allegedly trying to violate the Belarusian border. Belarusian authorities this week released the Russians. The three others, who are Belarusian citizens, remain in jail.

Yesterday, Russian Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin said Moscow will strengthen its ties with Belarus despite the row. He said that Russia will do everything to strengthen the union between the two countries.

Chernomyrdin, in remarks made at the Moscow International Air Show and carried by the Interfax news agency, criticized Belarus for detaining the journalists, saying such steps were "unacceptable."

But the Russian Prime Minister said a union treaty signed this year by the two former Soviet republics was much more important.

Chernomyrdin said Russia will do everything to strengthen its ties with Belarus. He said the ties are too precious and too important for Russia and Belarus.