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Belarus: OSCE's Official To Review Election With Open Mind

Senior officials from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) express deep concern about preparations for Sunday's (9 September) election in Belarus in which President Alyaksandr Lukashenka is seeking re-election. The chairman of the OSCE's Parliamentary Assembly, Adrian Severin, flies to Belarus today with a team of international election monitors. In a conversation with RFE/RL's Munich correspondent, Roland Eggleston, Severin says the OSCE is still hoping that Belarus will meet international democratic standards.

Munich, 7 September 2001 (RFE/RL) -- The chairman of the OSCE's Parliamentary Assembly, Adrian Severin, travels to Belarus today carrying a critical report on Sunday's (9 September) election prepared by the head of the OSCE's election department, Gerard Stoudman.

It was drawn up on the basis of reports submitted by a team of international monitors sent to observe preparations for the election. Stoudman presented the assessment personally at yesterday's meeting of the OSCE's Permanent Council in Vienna.

It reported harassment of President Alyaksandr Lukashenka's rivals in the election, obstacles placed in the way of the international and local observers monitoring preparations for the poll, and intimidation of the media. Stoudman said he is concerned that election-day monitors might not be permitted full access to polling places and to vote-counting at every level.

Despite these comments, Severin tells RFE/RL that his group of international observers will monitor the election with an open mind. Only after the election is over will it pass judgement on whether the poll was in accordance with democratic standards.

He says the Parliamentary Assembly is aware of the criticisms of the Belarus administration and has asked it to resolve deficiencies with democratic behavior.

"Of course, we have expressed along the time our concern about the deficiencies and shortcomings of democracy in Belarus. We have asked for some commitments to be observed. We asked for various kinds of steps and benchmarks to be reached."

Severin is reluctant to comment on how the OSCE and the Parliamentary Assembly will react if the elections are not democratic. He says that should be discussed after the election, not before.

He recalls that the Parliamentary Assembly has already refused to recognize the present Belarus parliament because of the undemocratic manner in which it was chosen. The Parliamentary Assembly does not accept deputies from the present Belarus parliament as members of the Assembly.

But Severin says Belarus should not be sent into any form of international isolation if the election does not meet the standards expected of OSCE members.

"I don't believe in isolation. I believe in permanent persuasion and using the means we have to promote our goals. For us, democracy, human rights, and the rule of law are also steps towards security. As for the specific policies we are going to adopt, this is something which will be decided at a later stage."

Severin said Belarus will not be expelled from the OSCE if the election does not meet international standards. No other member government has suffered sanctions because of election irregularities.

OSCE rules require the consensus of all 55 member states for such a course. In this case, it is improbable that Belarus would vote for its own expulsion. And Severin said it is likely that several other countries would oppose expulsion if it was ever suggested.

Severin said he and other OSCE officials are urging Lukashenka to follow a course that would win acceptance from other countries. He says every country wants normal political relations with others, but normal relations require a democratic system of government.

"We have made very clear our expectations and we indicated very clearly the improvements which are needed in order to raise the country to the level of accepted international standards."

Severin says the Parliamentary Assembly is disturbed by the unexplained disappearance of critics of Lukashenka. Last month, the U.S. State Department said two Belarusian investigators had been granted asylum after presenting evidence of a government-sponsored death squad allegedly involved in the murders of up to 30 people. The State Department described the evidence presented by the two men as "credible."

Severin says the Parliamentary Assembly has asked Belarus to investigate the allegations and to publicize the outcome. It is unhappy that there has been no satisfactory response so far.

"The disappearance of political personalities representing mainly the opposition groups are well-known for a long time. And since we don't have evidence about the context in which these disappearances took place, it is hard to make a very clear accusation against somebody. What we have asked -- and, I would say, what we have repeatedly asked -- was for the government to make the necessary enquiries and to give us as-complete-as-possible reports about the whereabouts of these disappeared persons. This is something we have asked for a long time, and obviously we are not happy that these investigations did not give the necessary answers to our questions until now."

Severin says Lukashenka has said there is no place for Belarus in the European Union, but Severin has another view.

"I think that Belarus needs the European Union and needs to be eventually even a member state of the European Union. Because I see the EU not only as it is today but as it could be tomorrow, and this is the frame within which Europe could be unified. I don't think that Belarus could seriously hope for a better future if it ignores its relations with the democratic Europe."

He says the European Union has not ignored Belarus and certainly does not reject it. But like any other organization, it has its own standards, and neither Belarus nor any other country can become a member of a club without meeting its rules.