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Belarusian Girl Returns From U.S. On Family's Request

MINSK (Reuters) -- A 17-year-old girl from Belarus, whose longer than expected stay in the United States prompted a diplomatic standoff with Washington, has returned home, officials said.

The Belarusian Foreign Ministry said Tatyana Kozyro, the guest of a family in California, returned on November 23.

"At the request of Tatyana Kozyro's grandmother, the Foreign Ministry took the necessary measures for her return to Belarus," ministry spokeswoman Tatyana Vanshyna said.

Western countries have long accused Belarus of human rights violations, and relations between the two have been strained.

In March, the U.S. ambassador was asked to leave after Minsk accused Washington of tightening sanctions on oil producer Belneftekhim.

But in August, authorities released several prisoners from jail, prompting relations between the Belarus and the West to improve somewhat.

Kozyro, who lives with her grandmother north of the capital, Minsk, was one of a group of 25 people who had gone to the United States on a "health stay."

Such visits are common in the former Soviet state, where people suffer from the effects of the 1986 Chornobyl nuclear explosion in nearby Ukraine.

In August, after Kozyro failed to return, Belarus exchanged diplomatic notes with the United States.

Authorities in Minsk accused the host family of keeping the girl in the United States and said they would stop sending children there.

In 2006, an Italian family concealed for three weeks a 10-year-old girl they hosted for the summer, saying she had been mistreated at her orphanage.