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Belarus: Government Says OSCE Must Show More Respect, Or Leave

Belarus has announced its intention to close the Minsk mission of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe unless the organization treats the Belarusian government with more respect.

Prague, 23 October 2002 (RFE/RL) -- The Belarusian Foreign Ministry says it has decided that the Advisory and Monitoring Group for the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, or OSCE, will not be allowed to operate in Belarus "in its current form."

A Belarusian Foreign Ministry spokesman, Pavel Latushka, said today that relations between the OSCE mission and Belarus in the future should be based on "mutual respect and trust."

"As a representative of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, I am ready to say that, according to the opinion of the Belarusian government, the OSCE mission will not be allowed to operate in Belarus in its present form," Latushka said.

Latushka said Belarus does not reject the idea of cooperation with the OSCE but wants the purpose of the OSCE mission in the country to be more clearly defined. "We are talking about the forms and principles on which the cooperation between Belarus and the OSCE should be based. They should be comprehensible for the government of Belarus," Latushka said.

Relations between the OSCE and Belarus have long been strained. The OSCE has repeatedly criticized the country's human rights record and condemned President Alyaksandr Lukashenka's re-election last year as flawed.

Lukashenka, in turn, has accused the mission's diplomats of supporting his political foes. The mission's last acting head, Andrew Carpenter, left Belarus in June after authorities refused to extend his visa. The previous acting head of the group, Michel Rivollier, left in April for the same reason. His replacement, Eberhard Heyken, was barred from entering the country that same month. The first secretary of the mission, Meaghan Fitzgerald, was denied a visa in mid-September.

The visa of the last OSCE diplomat in Minsk, Alina Josan, expires on 29 October, after which she may be forced to leave the country.

Latushka told RFE/RL today that Belarus has requested a meeting with the OSCE several times to discuss its concerns, but that the initiatives have been ignored.

Keith Jinks is a public-information officer for the OSCE. Jinks told RFE/RL today that the organization has displayed goodwill toward Belarus. He said the OSCE has been engaged in what he called "discreet diplomatic negotiations" with Minsk for several months. "This is really a question for the Belarusians to put their view forward and for the chairmanship of the OSCE to listen respectfully to that view and then to put forward the view of the Permanent Council. It's not a question of talking of new principles. The OSCE has its principles. These are laid down in several documents, and these are the principles on which we operate every single day of the year," Jinks said.

Marius Vahl, a political analyst for the Center for European Policy Studies in Brussels, said the OSCE, which promotes civil society and the rule of law, will not accept any Belarusian proposals to renegotiate its principles or the purpose of its mission in the country. "I don't think that it will be acceptable [to the OSCE] that any special or new conditions are put on the OSCE mission. They have a long history throughout Europe, and one knows what they do. And if [Lukashenka] cannot accept that, the OSCE will just have to live with that," Vahl said.

Vahl said Belarus is becoming more and more isolated internationally and that the expulsion of the OSCE mission would be one more step backward. "It seems that the OSCE link is one of the few links that [Belarus] actually has, especially with the West and Western Europe. So, yes, it will be even more isolated," Vahl said.

The only foreign staffer for the OSCE in Minsk, administrator Alina Josan, told RFE/RL today that the Belarusian authorities have not formally reproached the mission. "I don't know what they are charging us with at present, because for almost a year now, from the time the [presidential] elections took place and [former mission head Hans-Georg] Wieck left the country [in December 2001], the work of the mission has been paralyzed. From that time on, we have done nothing," Josan said.

Josan said the attitude of the Belarusian authorities has been one of complete defiance toward the mission. She said the mission has almost no contact with the Foreign Ministry.

Josan, who is a Moldovan diplomat, said that 10 other people are still working in the mission as translators, drivers, and assistants, but that she is the sole remaining diplomat. She said the Belarusian authorities have ignored all initiatives toward cooperation. "The only thing we are doing now," she said, "is just running the office."