EU chiefs urge thaw in ties with Russia ally Belarus

EU External Affairs Commissioner said it was time to reopen a high-level political dialogue with Belarus, due to hold a Sept. 28 parliamentary election that will be under close international scrutiny.

EU chiefs urge thaw in ties with Russia ally Belarus

Senior European Union officials called on Saturday for a thaw in ties with Russian ally Belarus after it freed political prisoners and declined to recognise Moscow-backed breakaway regions of Georgia.

The United States has already eased some economic sanctions on what it until recently called Europe's last dictatorship, a U.S. embassy source told Reuters on Friday. The EU is also looking at ways to bring Belarus -- a key transit route for Russian oil and gas to Europe -- closer to the West.

"They have taken an important decisions on the release of political prisoners... We would like very much to find something on our side to reward that sort of behaviour," EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana told reporters at an EU meeting.

The EU and Washington slapped visa bans on top Belarussian officials after accusing authoritarian President Alexander Lukashenko of rigging his 2006 election, shutting down independent media and jailing opponents.

Minsk last month freed Sergei Parsyukevich and Andrei Kim, the last two prisoners who had been in jail in connection with protests against Lukashenko's policies.

EU External Affairs Commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner said it was time to reopen a high-level political dialogue with Belarus, due to hold a Sept. 28 parliamentary election that will be under close international scrutiny.

She suggested inviting the Belarus foreign minister to meet his EU counterparts in Brussels on Sept. 15 and cutting the cost of visas for Belarussian citizens visiting EU countries.

"I am in favour of more openness and possibly of helping in terms of visas," Ferrero-Waldner told reporters on the sidelines of the meeting in the southern French city of Avignon.

Officials said she and Solana have held telephone contacts with senior members of Lukashenko's government in recent weeks.

"We also want to see these elections consolidate this somewhat more open position of the Belarussians...I also would support the Polish colleague, who says we should reduce the visa fees," she said of a proposal by Belarus's EU neighbour Poland.

Neither Solana nor Ferrero-Waldner called for a lifting of the sanctions, which aside from the travel bans include a freeze on certain trade benefits and grants to which Belarus would normally be entitled under EU neighbourhood policy.

However officials said sanctions could be dropped as early as October if the parliamentary election was judged fair.

Belarus and other traditional allies of Moscow have been lukewarm so far in their backing of Russia's armed intervention in Georgia's rebel South Ossetia conflict last month, and have not followed the Kremlin in recognising the independence of South Ossetia or Abkhazia, the other breakaway region.

Reuters

Güncelleme Tarihi: 06 Eylül 2008, 14:32
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