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Belarus: U.S. Bans Belarusian Officials, Blames Lukashenka

Washington, 15 July 1998 (RFE/RL) -- The U.S. says that if anyone is to blame for the increasing international isolation of Belarus, it is its president, Alyaksandr Lukashenka.

State Department spokesman James Rubin said Tuesday the United States does not want to see Belarus isolated from the rest of the international community, but he says that what he called the crude and intolerable actions of Lukashenka have forced the international community to tighten up sanctions on Belarus.

Those sanctions now include a ban on travel for Belarusian officials to the United States, the member states of the European Union (EU) and ten other countries. The EU imposed its ban on Monday. Rubin announced the U.S. ban on Tuesday and said it is immediate.

The actions of Lukashenka that have drawn the condemnations began several weeks ago in the diplomatic compound of Drozdy near the capital city of Minsk. Since then, Rubin says, "the regime in Belarus has orchestrated a campaign that challenges one of the basic principles of diplomatic relations," and has "denied the legal right of nations to conduct their diplomatic business without interference or intimidation from host governments."

Rubin accused Belarus of trying to force ambassadors of the U.S. and a dozen other countries to leave Minsk. Said Rubin: "The Lukashenka regime did this through a crude campaign of harassment carried out under the guise of conducting urgent repairs to utilities in the neighborhoods where the ambassadors resided."

Last week, said Rubin, Belarus took the further step of tearing down fences and, in effect, seizing control of the U.S. ambassador's residence. Rubin said these actions violate international conventions that Belarus has signed which protect diplomats and the property of the foreign government. According to Rubin, embassy chanceries and residences of ambassadors are protected by the principle of inviolability. They cannot be entered by host governments without permission.

The U.S. spokesman said these are basic legal rights that must be protected.

The real reason for the campaign, said Rubin, is the desire of the Lukashenka regime "to evict the diplomats and restrict their diplomatic freedoms and activities in Belarus, effectively impairing their ability to monitor the steady slide of Belarus away from democracy and respect for fundamental human rights."

Rubin said the U.S. and European nations have tried to resolve the issue reasonably and have repeatedly warned Lukashenka that escalation of the crisis would force the international community to respond. The response came this week. Rubin said:

"The United States fully endorses the restrictions that the European Union is imposing and will likewise restrict the travel of Belarusian officials to the United States. Each travel request, except those to international organizations in the United States, will be examined with the presumption of denial. We will be suspending the small number of programs in which officials of the Belarusian government participate. These include exchange programs, certain assistance activities and the remaining low-level military-to-military programs. " The list of officials who will not be allowed to enter the U.S. includes Lukashenka, all the leaders of the presidential administration, all ministers, certain deputy ministers, and the head of the KGB. Rubin said the ban does not cover trips to the United Nations in New York, but he added that Belarus has "not signaled" that it wants to participate in the international community.

Rubin said the U.S. is again calling on Belarus to respect its international obligations, to respect foreign missions as well as the fundamental human rights of its citizens, and rejoin the Euro-Atlantic community of democratic nations.

Lukashenka said the travel ban is blackmail. He said on Tuesday that the EU would have found any excuse to impose the travel ban because, in his words, Western countries simply "don't like Lukashenka."