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Some EU Envoys Returning To Minsk


Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka
Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka
Ambassadors to Belarus from European Union countries are starting to return to Minsk after they departed in late February in protest of the human rights record of authoritarian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka’s regime.

Officials say envoys from the Czech Republic, Poland, Sweden, Lithuania, and Estonia have either already returned to Belarus or will soon do so.

All 27 EU member states withdrew their envoys after the Belarusian regime asked two EU diplomats to leave Minsk following a new series of EU sanctions that were imposed against regime officials.

The return of the EU envoys comes after the Belarusian government last week released from custody former presidential candidate Andrey Sannikau and his campaign aide Dzmitry Bandarenka, who were detained in the aftermath of mass protests against Lukashenka's reelection at the end of 2010.

Opposition forces accused Lukashenka -- who has ruled the country for the past 18 years -- of securing reelection through widespread fraud.

The EU and United States had denounced what they called Sannikau's political imprisonment and have been pressuring Lukashenka’s regime to release all individuals jailed over their opposition to the regime.

The Czech Ambassador to Belarus Jiri Karas told RFE/RL that he plans to be in Minsk by April 27.

"I am very glad, very glad that I can come back to Belarus," Karas said. "You know, there is a part of my life, there is a part of my soul there. I love Belarus, believe me.”

On April 25, Polish media reported that the Polish Ambassador Leszek Szerepka had already entered Belarusian territory. Officials of the Swedish Embassy told RFE/RL that Ambassador Stefan Eriksson had returned to Minsk and resumed his work.

The Lithuanian Foreign Ministry said Ambassador Edminas Bagdonas would return to Minsk soon. And Estonian Ambassador Jaak Lensment also told RFE/RL that he would come back to Belarus in the coming days.

The European Union last month added 12 more people and 29 companies to a list of Belarusian officials and entities facing EU restrictions over the continuing repression of civil society by Lukashenka's regime.

Lukashenka's government has also recently faced a wave of international condemnation over the March executions of the two men convicted of carrying out the Minsk subway bombing one year ago that killed 15 people. Belarus is the only country in Europe that currently implements the death penalty.

Citing a range of abuses, rights activists have also launched a campaign to try to persuade international ice hockey authorities to reverse the decision granting Belarus the right to host the 2014 world championship.

With reporting by Delfi
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