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Belarus: National Assembly Again Fails To Join OSCE Parliamentary Body

The Belarus National Assembly has again failed to be accepted as a member of the parliamentary division of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). Four Belarus delegates attended the opening session of an OSCE Parliamentary Assembly meeting in Berlin on 6 July, but left when they were accepted only as provisional members for the first day.

Munich, 8 July 2002 (RFE/RL) -- Belarus has been excluded from the Parliamentary Assembly of the OSCE since 1996 because of doubts surrounding its diplomatic credentials. Some OSCE officials say it is uncertain whether it will gain membership in the near future.

Belarus is the only one of the OSCE's 55 members that is not also represented in the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly, which is a separate body drawn from the parliaments of member countries. Its decisions are made independently of the main organization.

Belarus was excluded from the Parliamentary Assembly in 1996, when President Alyaksandr Lukashenka dismissed a democratically elected parliament and replaced it with one he chose himself. The National Assembly now seeking recognition was elected in October 2000.

Four members of the Belarus National Assembly attended the opening session of an OSCE meeting held in Berlin on 6 July. But instead of receiving credentials for the entire five-day meeting, the delegates were given documents for the opening day only. They then left the building and did not attend the meeting.

An OSCE spokesman, Jan Joorens, said today some parliamentarians had objected to the seating of the Belarus delegation. He did not identify the objectors, but other officials said they included the United States. Russia supports the Belarus bid for membership.

Joorens said the question of Belarus membership in the OSCE parliament will be taken up again at the group's winter session. "The standing committee [of the Parliamentary Assembly] decided not to take a decision [regarding the status of Belarus] -- which means it postponed a decision until the winter meeting in Vienna in February."

OSCE officials said today the Belarus delegation would probably have been accepted as a member of the Parliamentary Assembly if they had attended the last meeting in February. When no delegate appeared, the matter was postponed until this week's meeting in Berlin.

A French delegate, Nicole Durand, said attitudes have hardened since then. This year, Belarus expelled several members of the OSCE mission in the country, which was sent there in 1998 to help develop democracy. Lukashenka has accused the mission of spying and of interfering in the internal affairs of the nation. The future of the mission remains in doubt.

The OSCE criticized Belarus last month for prosecuting two journalists who criticized Lukashenka during last year's presidential elections, in which Lukashenka won another term. Durand says it remains to be seen if the OSCE stance on Belarus will change. "Several countries still doubt whether Belarus has the diplomatic credentials to be a member of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly. Its application will be considered again in Vienna in February but a lot will depend on how it behaves towards the OSCE in the meantime."

The dispute in the Parliamentary Assembly does not affect Belarus's membership in the OSCE itself. It joined the organization in 1992.

Four members of the advisory council of Belarus opposition parties were accepted as observers at the Berlin meeting. They have no right either to address the meeting or to vote, but officials said they are active in talking privately to other delegates.

The Berlin meeting is also discussing repressive actions against the political opposition in some OSCE member countries and laws which could damage the opposition. A spokesman said today the talks are taking place in closed committee meetings.

The OSCE has missions in all five Central Asian countries which provide regular reports on the political situation. Most recently, on 27 June, the OSCE mission office in Kazakhstan expressed concern that a new law on political parties approved by both chambers of parliament could have serious consequences for political pluralism.