Lukashenko sends rest of OSCE packing

  • 2002-09-19

Belarus authorities expelled the acting chief of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) recently in the latest round of confrontation between Minsk and the Pan-European security body.

Meaghan Fitzgerald, the acting head of mission, told AFP before leaving the Belarus capital for the United States on Sept. 13 that authorities had refused to renew her entry visa without an explanation, forcing her to leave.

"The Belarus Foreign Ministry told me that it saw no reason for extending my visa," Fitzgerald said at the airport.

She added that the OSCE would now be represented in Minsk by just one employee, Alina Josan, a citizen of the former Soviet republic of Moldova, who does not need a visa to work in Belarus.

Belarus' hard-line leader Alexander Lukashenko has repeatedly come to blows with the organization, which he accuses of supporting his political opposition.

Minsk last withdrew the visa of its mission chief and deputy chief in April, leaving Fitzgerald in charge.

"We have not been able to work effectively this whole year," said Fitzgerald. "But I still hope that our monitoring service, and our ability to read letters from Belarus citizens who appeal to us, will have an important effect."

The 55-member OSCE was set up during the Cold War as a point of contact between NATO and Warsaw Pact countries.

The body had planned to send a high-level delegation to Minsk over the summer, but that trip was delayed following protests from Lukashenko.

Relations between the OSCE and Minsk have been hampered by the security body's criticism of a lack of political press freedoms in Belarus, and more recently by allegations that Lukashenko's government was selling arms to Iraq.