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Belarus: Minsk Expected To Expel Another OSCE Diplomat

Belarus is expected to expel another diplomat of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe this week unless progress is made on settling a dispute over the scope of the OSCE's activities. The diplomat will be the third OSCE official to be barred from the country since the beginning of the year. The OSCE says negotiations on changing the OSCE's mandate are under way with Belarusian authorities, but officials are not willing to comment on any progress. RFE/RL correspondent Roland Eggleston reports from OSCE headquarters in Vienna that the future of the group's mission in Minsk is in question.

Vienna, 28 May 2002 (RFE/RL) -- The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe is continuing consultations with Belarus over possible changes to the OSCE's mandate that will allow the organization to continue operating a mission in Minsk.

At OSCE headquarters in Vienna, officials say talks with Belarus are ongoing. They declined to say whether they are making progress.

OSCE officials are hoping for an agreement by 1 June, when the head of the Minsk mission, Andrew Carpenter, will have to leave the country because authorities have not renewed his visa.

Belarusian Foreign Minister Mikhail Khvostov was quoted as saying on 24 May that Belarus was dissatisfied with the activities of the OSCE mission in Minsk. He said the extension of Carpenter's visa "was conditional on the OSCE chairmanship paying attention to issues raised by Belarus."

The OSCE's mandate -- agreed with the Belarusian government -- says it should "assist Belarus authorities in making progress toward a democratic system of government and in complying with other OSCE commitments." The OSCE sees its mission essentially as promoting democracy and human rights, and encouraging legislation that furthers these goals.

Carpenter told RFE/RL the problem is that Belarus has not specified what changes it wants. "[Belarusian officials] are extremely vague. Basically, they want us to stop doing all [of what they consider to be] the 'bad' stuff and get on to doing the 'good' stuff. But they have not really articulated what they consider to be the bad stuff and what they would like as the good stuff."

If Carpenter is forced to leave on 1 June, he will be the third OSCE official barred from Belarus since the beginning of the year. That will leave only two members of the international staff left in Minsk: a diplomat concerned with human rights and an administrative officer.

OSCE officials who requested anonymity said the organization would then have to consider whether the mission could properly do its job in Minsk.

At a meeting of the OSCE Permanent Council in Vienna last week on 23 May, Belarus's delegate Viktor Gaisenak said the OSCE mission should not be oriented toward the political opposition, but should "make a more objective picture of the complex processes in the country."

He said reports sent by the mission to the OSCE leadership "do not mirror the real situation in Belarus but the marginal phenomena that one can find in any country, should [one] wish to do so."

Belarus has been a member of the OSCE since 1992. The mission was sent to Minsk in February 1998 in response to complaints that the government of President Alyaksandr Lukashenka had failed to meet OSCE standards of democracy and the rule of law. Lukashenka was reluctant to accept it and did so only on the advice of Russia.

Belarus was dissatisfied with the first head of the mission, Hans-Georg Wieck, who was once head of the German intelligence service. Belarus frequently accused Wieck of spying and of supporting the political opposition.

When Wieck retired last year, the OSCE appointed another German, Eberhard Heyken, in his place. Belarus said it would not grant Heyken an entry visa until the mandate of the mission was revised. A French diplomat, Michel Rivollier, already in Belarus, took over as acting head of mission but was compelled to leave in April when authorities refused to extend his visa.