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Belarus: OSCE Says It Hopes To Repair Crumbling Relations With Minsk

The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) says it still hopes that Belarus will reverse its decision to force the departure of its most senior representative in Minsk. The OSCE held an emergency meeting in Vienna yesterday on the situation but decided only to seek the return of its representative and try to build new bridges to the Belarus government.

Munich, 17 April 2002 (RFE/RL) -- The OSCE says its foremost concern in its relations with Belarus is to achieve the return of the acting head of its Mission in Minsk, Michel Rivollier, with guarantees that the other three members of the mission also will be allowed to remain in the country.

A three-hour closed meeting in Vienna yesterday of the OSCE's Permanent Council agreed to ask Belarus for more information about why it refused to extend the six-month visa normally granted to Rivollier as a matter of routine.

Rivollier told the meeting that he had been given no explanation for the refusal to extend his visa. He was named acting head of the OSCE's Belarus Mission at the end of 2001 when his predecessor, designated Mission chief Eberhard Heyken, a German diplomat, also was refused a visa. Heyken used yesterday's meeting to urge Belarus to grant him a visa as well.

Antonio Capinha, the spokesman for Portugal, the current chairman of the OSCE, told RFE/RL today that the requests have already been passed to Minsk and that the OSCE is waiting for an answer.

"There were a lot of statements there in the PC [Permanent Council] urging, and asking, Belarus to be more cooperative and to give the visa to Mr. Rivollier and also to get more cooperation with the OSCE. The OSCE is open to cooperation with the Belarus authorities. So we wait to see what the Belarusians are going to do," Capinha said.

Capinha said Belarus never offered an explanation of why Rivollier's visa was not extended. He said the OSCE received only a diplomatic note last week saying Belarus saw no reason to extend either the visa or Rivollier's accreditation as acting head of the OSCE Mission.

Capinha said the OSCE has asked for guarantees that the remaining three members of the mission staff still in Belarus will have their six-month visas extended when they expire.

The spokesman said the Portuguese chairmanship knows nothing about rumors that Belarus President Alyaksandr Lukashenka is considering suspending his country's membership in the OSCE. The rumors circulated at OSCE headquarters in Vienna in February and were also reported by Interfax on 21 February, quoting what was described as a "trustworthy diplomatic source in Minsk."

He said the head of the Belarus delegation to the OSCE, Viktar Gaisenak, told yesterday's emergency meeting of the Permanent Council that Belarus is open to cooperation and negotiations with the OSCE.

The OSCE Mission was established in Minsk in February 1998 in response to complaints that the Belarus government failed to meet OSCE standards for democracy and the rule of law. The OSCE has particularly criticized irregularities in elections in Belarus. It condemned September's presidential election as fraudulent.

The mission's official mandate -- agreed with the Belarus government -- is to "assist the Belarus authorities in making progress towards a democratic system of government and in complying with other OSCE commitments." It has three main goals: the establishment of democratic institutions, education in human rights, and assistance in drawing up legislation to promote these goals.

Belarus has frequently accused the OSCE of aiding the political opposition. It accused a previous head of the mission in Minsk, Hans Georg Wieck, of spying and trying to undermine the administration.