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Belarus: Government Accused Of Delaying OSCE Mission

Vienna, 2 December 1997 (RFE/RL) -- A major row has broken out over plans by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) to send a mission to Belarus to help develop democracy there.

OSCE officials say the United States, the European Union and Switzerland have accused Belarus of deliberately delaying the dispatch of the team objecting to the standard conditions for an OSCE mission. The dispute led to heated arguments at a meeting of the OSCE council in Vienna last week.

The officials say the meeting ended with the U.S. and the European Union giving Belarus an ultimatum to accept the conditions by the end of this week. Otherwise the problems may be transferred to the OSCE foreign ministers meeting Copenhagen on December 18 and could lead to a public statement condemning Belarus.

OSCE has been trying to send a mission to Belarus since early this year when its special commissioner found that the Government led by President Alyaksandr Lukashenka was moving towards the creation of a totalitarian state.

Belarus finally agreed to accept a mission in June but reversed its decision less than a month later. After intensive negotiations by the current OSCE chairman, Denmark, it again agreed to the mission in September. Since then negotiations have been underway on the Memorandum of Understanding which sets out the conditions under which the mission operates.

OSCE officials say that one of the problems is the Belarus attitude to the period of the mission. All OSCE missions whether to Georgia, Estonia, Latvia, Moldova, Ukraine or Tajikistan are sent for a fixed period, usually six months. The term can then renewed as required with the agreement of the country concerned.

However Belarus is unwilling to agree to these conditions. It argues that the Memorandum of Understanding should say only that the OSCE mission is "temporary".

Several western Governments fear this would open the way for Belarus to expel the mission without notice if it disliked what the mission was doing.

Diplomats say that during last week's heated meeting, some countries suggested that the problem be transferred to a special meeting of the political directors of all 54 OSCE countries. This would be a higher political level than the preset negotiations.

Diplomats say Belarus strongly objected to this proposal. To the surprise of many Western diplomats it was supported by Russia on this point.

It was then that the U. S.. and the European Union warned that they were prepared to make Belarus an issue at this month's meeting of OSCE foreign ministers. They said this step could be very unfavorable to Belarus and its efforts t improve its international image.

Last year Belarus used its veto to prevent being condemned at an OSCE summit meeting in Lisbon. However there are different rules at a foreign ministers meeting and a Belarus will not be able to veto a statement by Denmark as the chairman of OSCE.