Belarus has ordered the head of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe's mission in Minsk to leave the country by midnight in what appears to be a dispute over the OSCE's activities in the country. The diplomat, Andrew Carpenter, is the third OSCE diplomat to be barred from the country since the beginning of the year, and only two members of the international staff remain in Belarus.
Vienna, 3 June 2002 (RFE/RL) -- A spokesman at OSCE headquarters in Vienna says the organization is discussing the future of its mission in Belarus after the head of mission, Andrew Carpenter, was told to leave Belarus by midnight tonight.
Portugal, the current chairman of the OSCE, tells RFE/RL the organization will have to consider the situation now that only two members of the international staff remain in Minsk. One is a diplomat dealing with human rights and the other is an administrative officer.
The spokesman, Antonio Capinha, says he cannot speculate on how the OSCE will react, but he emphasizes the organization will continue to cooperate with Minsk, which has been an OSCE member since 1992.
"The official position of the OSCE is that the OSCE will do everything, everything possible to have a very good cooperation, a very constructive framework with the Belarus authorities. That is what we are looking for."
Carpenter had been attached to the OSCE mission in Belarus for two years. His visa expired on 1 June and he was informed the day before that it would not be renewed. However, his diplomatic accreditation remains valid until 14 August and the OSCE had hoped he would be allowed to stay in Belarus until then.
But today (3 June), Carpenter received a formal letter from the Belarusian Foreign Ministry saying his diplomatic accreditation had been withdrawn. The Foreign Ministry letter gave no reason.
Belarus also failed to give a reason when it withdrew the visa and accreditation of another OSCE diplomat, Eberhard Heyken, in April.
OSCE officials who requested anonymity tell RFE/RL it appears Belarus is applying pressure on the OSCE to meet Minsk's demand for changes in the mandate of the mission. Belarus requested changes last year and negotiations have been underway for several months, but little progress has been made.
OSCE officials say Belarus frequently criticizes the mission for its contacts with the political opposition, but the country has not said specifically what changes it is seeking.
The current mandate -- agreed with the government -- says the OSCE mission should assist authorities in making progress toward a democratic system of government. The mission has been in Minsk since early 1998.
Belarusian Foreign Minister Mikhail Khuostou said last month (24 May) that his government is not satisfied with progress in negotiations and added that Carpenter's stay was conditional on the OSCE chairmanship paying attention to the issues raised by Belarus.
The OSCE spokesman responded today by saying Belarus has frequently spoken at weekly meetings of the Permanent Council as well as in the negotiations, but the changes it is seeking in the mandate remain unclear.