Belarus's Investigative Committee is resuming a criminal investigation into the disappearance of former Interior Minister Yury Zakharanka following claims made by a former member of a secretive police unit of involvement in his alleged kidnapping and killing 20 years ago.
Belarusian human rights activist Aleh Vouchak told RFE/RL in comments published on December 25 that the Investigative Committee reopened the cold case two days after Deutsche Welle on December 16 published an interview with Yury Harauski, who in 1999 served in a special Interior Ministry unit that allegedly kidnapped and killed political opponents of President Alyaksandr Lukashenka.
Lukashenka recently denied any official role in the disappearances and said those missing were not politicians and therefore no one had an interest in killing them.
"Nobody among top officials, except a president, can give such an order," Lukashenka told the Moscow-based Ekho Moskvy radio station in an interview that was broadcast on December 24, "and I have never given and will never give such an order."
Then he added: "Why would I need that? What has changed with two or three people fewer less in Belarus?"
The rights activist, Vouchak, showed a letter signed on December 18 by Yury Varauka, a department head at the Investigative Committee, stating that the case was reinstated.
According to Vouchak, the reason for reopening the missing-person case was because the former special-police unit member and opposition politician in his interview didn't "hide behind masks" and made statements that caused a "huge public reaction."
In the interview, Harauski said the unit of which he was a member kidnapped and killed opposition leader Viktar Hanchar, businessman Anatol Krasouski, and Zakharanka.
Harauski said the former interior minister was kidnapped in Minsk on May 7, 1999, driven to a military base outside the Belarusian capital, and then shot by his superior, Dzmitry Paulichenka, a lieutenant colonel who had headed the special unit.
Paulichenka said his former subordinate's comments were "nonsense" and alleged that Harauski was thrown out of the unit for criminal activity. Another former colleague alleged Harauski had a drinking problem.
Vouchak posited that cases involving the disappearance of Hanchar and Krasouski would be reopened as well.
In 2004, a report by the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe concluded that senior Belarusian officials "may themselves be involved" in the disappearances of the men.