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Belarus Moves To Calm Food Ban Spat With Russia

MINSK (Reuters) -- Belarus moved to calm a new row over trade issues with Russia on July 22, supporting a Russian ban on some of its foodstuffs by adding more of its own plants to Moscow's list.

The neighbors, formally linked by a nebulous post-Soviet "union treaty," renewed their trade war on July 21 after several weeks of calm. Belarus shut down a Russian diesel pipeline and Russia banned some Belarusian meat imports.

But on July 22 Belarus did not dispute Russia's reason for the food ban.

"Specialists from the Belarusian veterinary service will quickly examine the discovery of harmful substances in products from these plants," the ministry said in a statement. It named one meat, one dairy and one cooking oil factory in Belarus in addition to the two meat plants earlier black-listed by Russia.

Minsk also denied any link between Russia's meat ban on July 21 and the Belarusian decision -- announced the same day -- to close a Russian pipeline that carries 10 million tons of diesel fuel via Belarus to Latvia.

The Emergencies Ministry called any suggestion that the two events were linked "illogical and out of place."

Belarus's conciliatory action belied previous angry moves. Last month, it condemned an almost total Russian ban on its dairy products, saying it was unfounded and calling it a "warning signal" from the Russians.

Belarus repeated its position that the pipeline had 150 "critical defects," but flows would be restored once they were fixed.

The pipeline's operator, Transnefteproduct, said its closure, ordered during maintenance, had been unexpected.

Disputes between the neighbors this year have focused on arrears in Belarusian payments for gas, the dairy trade and Russia's decision to freeze a $500 million loan to Belarus.

But analysts suggest the differences were linked to Belarus' efforts to improve links with the West after years of isolation over allegations that veteran Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka violated fundamental rights.

Both countries remain committed, however, to a plan to form a three-way customs union with Kazakhstan that would them make a bid to join the World Trade Organisation as a single entity.