Czech envoy set to return to Belarus this week
(PRAGUE) - The Czech ambassador to Belarus, who like his EU peers left Minsk in February in protest at the ex-Soviet state's rights record, will return this week, the Czech foreign ministry said Wednesday.
EU member states withdrew their envoys to Belarus in February after the regime of strongman leader Alexander Lukashenko had recalled two of its envoys to EU states in protest at sanctions against its officials.
"I can confirm we are planning the return of ambassador (Jiri) Karas to Minsk by the end of this week," Karel Srol from the ministry's press department told AFP.
"We are working in coordination with the other EU member states," he added.
Radio Svaboda, the Belarussian section of Czech-based US-funded Radio Free Europe, meanwhile said the ambassadors of Estonia and Sweden would also return to Minsk by the end of the week.
Lukashenko's domestic opponents have asked the EU nations' ambassadors to return because Lukashenko responded to their February action by banning his heaviest critics from leaving the country in reprisal.
Srol said the decision to send the envoys back to Minsk was also tied to the release from jail of two opposition figures, former presidential candidate Andrei Sannikov and his campaign aide Dmitry Bondarenko, on April 15.
"The release played a key role," he said.
Sannikov and Bondarenko were released three weeks after EU foreign ministers had agreed to freeze the assets of 29 Belarussian companies as well as block accounts and ban EU travel for 12 individuals in the toughest Western sanctions yet against Minsk.
The EU has been piling pressure on Minsk to release all political prisoners including those jailed after a crackdown on opposition forces who had accused Lukashenko of election fraud as he was re-elected in late 2010.
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