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Belarus: Latest Lukashenka Moves Keep Everyone Guessing

Yesterday (Monday), Belarus President Alyaksandr Lukashenka dismissed the country's top security officials. There was no official explanation for the move, but it has prompted a good deal of speculation. RFE/RL correspondent Jeremy Bransten reports.

Prague, 28 November 2000 (RFE/RL) -- President Alyaksandr Lukashenka has dismissed from their posts KGB Chairman Uladzimir Matskevich, Security Council Chairman Viktor Sheyman, and Prosecutor-General Aleh Bazhelka. As is usual in Belarus government shake-ups, the three were said to have been relieved of their duties yesterday "in connection with transfers to other jobs."

Discussing the dismissals with our correspondent, Presidential Press Secretary Mikalaj Barysevich the reason was probably Lukashenka's dissatisfaction with ongoing investigations into the disappearance of several prominent opposition politicians and activists:

"Recently, the president has paid a lot of attention to the investigation into the disappearances of individuals. This investigation was under his personal control and received a lot of publicity. Therefore, it's possible that one of the reasons for the changes in cadre is the president's dissatisfaction with the general course of the investigation and the effectiveness of the actions undertaken to solve these matters."

But the Belarus opposition has long accused the Lukashenka administration of actually being behind the disappearance of opposition figures such as politician Viktor Hanchar and journalist Dmitry Zavadsky. So opposition leaders do not put much stock in Barysevich's explanation.

Garri Pogonyailo, deputy chairman of the Belarusian Helsinki Commitee, told the independent Belapan news agency yesterday that, in his opinion, Lukashenka fired Matskevich, Sheyman, and Bazhelka to hide the truth about the disappearances.

Pogonyailo noted that the dismissals follow the publication of an anonymous e-mail accusing the Belarusian leader's personal security service of killing Zavadsky and Hanchar. The sender, who identified himself as a KGB officer, alleged that the KGB had detained five officers from the presidential security service who admitted killing Zavadksy and burying his body near Minsk. The five also allegedly confessed involvement in killing Hanchar.

This information cannot be verified. But the notion that the dismissals were prompted by in-fighting between the president's security apparatus and the KGB seems to be supported by the fact that Leanid Yeryn, chief of the presidential security service, has been named as the new KGB head in Belarus.

The Helsinki Committee's Pogonyailo says the recent appointment of former presidential Security Service chief Uladzimir Naumov as the new interior minister also is part of the effort to hide evidence linking Lukashenka to the disappearances.

So far, the tale reads more like Shakespeare's intrigue-ridden "Macbeth" than modern politics. But again, the line between truth and conjecture is hard to draw in Belarus. Former Prime Minister Mikhail Chyhir, himself now an opposition figure, does not believe in plots. He told RFE/RL that, in his view, all the purged men were loyal to the president.

"No. What sort of plot? I know Sheiman well, Bazhelka demonstrated his readiness to serve the president to all ends. There was no plot."

Siamyon Sharetsky is the exiled chairman of the former Belarus parliament, which was dissolved four years ago by Lukashenka. Sharetsky has still another interpretation of the government reshuffle. According to him, Lukashenka is purging ethnic Belarusians from the leadership as he prepares the country for ever-closer union with Russia. This is how Sharetsky explained the move to RFE/RL:

"The most recent shake-up in cadres should leave no doubt in anyone's mind that, by order of the Russian leadership, Belarus is in the final stages of a purge of Belarusians from the existing regime. In terms of nationality, the ruling dictatorial regime in our country is now almost completely Russian."

Chances are the truth may never come out. The hermetic nature of Belarusian politics and its personal dependence on Lukashenka makes any analysis risky. As in Soviet times, rumors are likely to carry the day.

(Bohdan Andrusyshyn of the Belarus service contributed to this report.)