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Belarus: Minsk Wants Closer Relationship With Europe

By Roland Eggelston

Minsk, 27 February 1998 (RFE/RL) -- Belarusian Foreign Minister Ivan Antonovich told RFE/RL today that he hopes his country will be received back into the European community of nations within about two years.

Antonovich made the comments at the opening of an office in Minsk of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). Antonovich said accepts that Belarus can not hope to be restored to the European community in a year.

Antonovich said the OSCE can offer advice on improving the constitution and developing legal institutions in Belarus. But he said any suggestion must be approved by the new parliament created by President Alyaksandr Lukashenka.

The opening of the OSCE mission in Minsk was attended not only by government officials, but also by dissidents and by members of the former parliament dissolved by President Lukashenka in 1996.

The head of the OSCE mission in Minsk, German diplomat Hans-Georg Wieck, said at the opening that the OSCE will do everything in its power to develop democracy in Belarus. The opening was preceded by a private discussion between Antonovich and the OSCE's chairman, Polish Foreign Minister Bronislav Geremek.

Diplomats said Geremek took a hard line in regard to human rights violations in Belarus. Geremek said he welcomed claims by Minsk that there are no political prisoners in Belarus. But he recalled that the communist government of Poland also had claimed it had no political prisoners at a time when Geremek himself was in jail for political offenses.