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Belarus: Diplomatic Scandal Deepens

Washington, 8 July 1998 (RFE/RL) -- The U.S. says Belarus is guilty of "the ultimate act of rudeness," by trying to force the international diplomatic community out of its residential compound.

The U.S. says Belarus wants the buildings and the land in the Drozdy neighborhood of Minsk, where the diplomats live.

On Tuesday, State Department spokesman James Rubin said the latest of what he called provocations was a threat by the Foreign Ministry to take over the buildings and seize the furnishings. He told reporters the threat was contained in an ultimatum given to the U.S. charge' and the other senior diplomats in the compound, telling them they had less than 24 hours to remove the furnishings themselves.

The U.S. had complained on Monday as well, accusing Minsk of sending government representatives onto embassy property without authorization.

Rubin said Tuesday's action demonstrates again Belarus' contempt for international law and international relations. He said it violates the Vienna Convention that protects diplomatic personnel in foreign countries. The actions by Belarus, said Rubin, are self-destructive.

He said: "A residence of a chief of mission is inviolable. It is unequivocally protected by the Vienna Convention. And we expect the government of Belarus to rescind its demand. And we require the government to replace the fences that have been removed from our property, remove representatives from our property, and permit us to post our own guards, and return to a position where they are no longer in violation of the Vienna Convention."

The alleged harassment began last week. The government in Minsk said it needed to make urgent repairs in the compound and wanted the diplomats to move out.

Rubin said Belarus has merely made excuses and said that none of them have any justification. He said that, "presumably they want to use this property for some other purpose. "

However, the spokesman said the U.S. and the rest of the diplomatic community, "have valid leases, and we have the Vienna Convention behind us. And what they are doing is violating not only the lease that we have, but also a basic principle of international behavior. "

The U.S. and the member countries of the European Union have already recalled their ambassadors in protest, and the U.S. has told the Belarusian ambassador not to return to Washington.

Rubin said the U.S. has "options" to pursue if Belarus does not restore the status quo. He added, however, that: "We are not yet prepared to describe what our intentions are. But clearly, at a minimum, what Belarus is doing here is further isolating itself from the world. This is not just the United States we are talking about; we are talking about a whole series of countries."

The U.S. spokesman said the controversy over the diplomatic compound is not an isolated incident, but is part of "a pattern of disrespect for the rule of law and disrespect for the obvious need of the citizens of Belarus to integrate themselves into Europe and the world."

Rubin also said the action, "is the latest in a pattern of lawlessness and disrespect for the rule of law pursued by this government," headed by President Aleksandr Lukashenka.

Rubin said Lukashenka has violated international human rights conventions that his government has signed, he said Lukashenka has disbanded a lawful parliament and replaced it with hand-picked allies and that he has, in Rubin's words, committed a series of acts in contravention of the rule of law.

Said Rubin: "And the message we take from this is that their leadership doesn't care about the rule of law, doesn't care about the opportunity to bring their people into a Europe in which they can prosper and advance their interests, and is acting like an authoritarian dictator who is unable to understand the basic difference between right and wrong. "