EU returns ambassadors to Belarus
(MINSK) - European ambassadors to Belarus started resuming their duties Wednesday after their recall nearly two months ago in the latest spat over sanctions on the isolated state.
"The Swedish ambassador Stefan Eriksson is in Minsk, and carrying out his duties. His return to Minsk followed a joint decision by the European Union," Swedish diplomat David Emtestam told AFP in Minsk.
Ambassadors from Poland, Germany, Poland, Lithuania, and the Czech Republic will return to the Belarussian capital before the end of the week, and some have already crossed the border, embassy representatives told AFP.
"There was a joint decision by the EU on returning ambassadors to Minsk before the end of this week," said Lithuanian embassy spokesman Mindaugas Lasas, adding that Lithuania's ambassador was already in Belarus.
The ambassadors left Belarus late February after Minsk responded to new EU sanctions on its officials suspected of political repression by suggesting that envoys from Poland and the European Commission should leave the country.
The EU agreed to freeze the assets of 29 Belarussian companies, block accounts and ban EU travel for 12 individuals, in the toughest Western sanctions yet against Minsk.
But EU officials warmed towards Minsk after strongman President Alexander Lukashenko pardoned and freed two jailed opposition figures last week, including his former rival in the presidential polls Andrei Sannikov.
Around a dozen opposition figures who were arrested over post-election protests in December 2010 still remain jailed, but the latest pardons could "contribute to possibilities for moving towards improved relations between the EU and Belarus," EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said Sunday.
"The release played a key role," said Karel Srol of the Czech foreign ministry.
Lukashenko won a fourth term at the helm of the ex-Soviet republic in disputed 2010 polls, sparking a mass street protest in Minsk that was violently broken up, with hundreds of arrests.
Lukashenko proceeded to accuse perpetrators of an attempted coup and jailed the country's key opposition figures in a move that further alienated the West and saw the EU respond with a series of sanctions.
Text and Picture Copyright 2012 AFP. All other Copyright 2012 EUbusiness Ltd. All rights reserved. This material is intended solely for personal use. Any other reproduction, publication or redistribution of this material without the written agreement of the copyright owner is strictly forbidden and any breach of copyright will be considered actionable.