Vienna, 5 December 1997 (RFE/RL) -- Belarus came under criticism today at a session of the Organization for Security and Co-Operation in Europe (OSCE) for blocking establishment of an OSCE mission in Minsk.
Our correspondent in Vienna quotes an OSCE spokesman saying that if Belarus does not agree to an OSCE office for promoting democracy by the end of next week, the issue will be taken to the OSCE foreign ministers meeting in Copenhagen later this month (Dec. 18). The spokesman said the publicity from a debate in Copenhagen would be "very damaging" for Belarus.
OSCE officials who attended today's closed session say Belarus was criticized by the United States, the European Union, Poland, Lithuania, Latvia, Switzerland, Norway and Canada. All expressed concern at the situation in Belarus and at the blocking tactics of the Minsk government.
Only Russia defended Belarus, saying Belarus "should not be pushed into a corner" and the matter should be resolved "as quietly as possible". The Belarus delegate accused the OSCE of a lack of cooperation and criticized the "suspicion" voiced by some delegates.
Belarus agreed in September to accept an OSCE mission. But OSCE officials say that in the negotiations since then it has refused to accept the standard OSCE Memorandum of Understanding which sets out the conditions under which the mission will operate.
In particular, Belarus refuses to accept the standard condition that the mission should remain for a minimum of six months, which can be renewed as long as necessary. Belarus says the memorandum should say only that the mission is "temporary".
A European Union diplomat said after today's meeting that it appeared Belarus was not really interested in having a mission. "It clearly wants a quick in-and-out temporary mission," the diplomat said. "Belarus sees it as a face-saving gesture to appease international opinion but it does not want an effective mission."
An OSCE spokesman said the Belarus foreign minister, Ivan Antonovich, also recently sent a letter to the organization with a list of conditions and demands in regard to the mission. These were discussed earlier this week at a meeting between the Belarus ambassador to the OSCE, Valyantin Fisenka, and OSCE secretary general Giancarlo Aragona. Aragona has now taken personal control of the negotiations over the Memorandum of Understanding.
The OSCE view is that the mission should develop human rights organizations in Belarus and promote democracy. An OSCE special report earlier this year said that the Belarusian government of President Alyaksandr Lukashenka was moving toward creation of a totalitarian state.
OSCE officials say the proposed mission would be made up of about six to eight experts trained in democracy programs. The delegation leader has not been named but officials say a Finnish expert is under discussion.