US embassy says 11 diplomats leave Belarus

Eleven U.S. diplomats have left Belarus after a row with Belarus over human rights and sanctions.

US embassy says 11 diplomats leave Belarus

Eleven U.S. diplomats have left Belarus after a row with the tightly controlled former Soviet state over human rights and sanctions, an embassy representative said on Saturday.

Belarus last month ordered 10 U.S. diplomats to leave because Washington had refused to comply with a demand to reduce staff at the Minsk embassy from 17 to six.

"All 11 diplomats, 10 of whom were declared persona non grata, together with their families have left Belarussian territory and entered Lithuania," a representative of the embassy who travelled with the diplomats told Reuters.

The reduction in embassy staff was the second Belarus had sought from the United States this year. In March, Belarus asked the U.S. ambassador to leave the country after the United States issued a clarification of U.S. sanctions that apply to the national oil products firm Belneftekhim.

Belarus says the clarification amounted to an expansion of the sanctions, but Washington denies that.

Washington has warned Belarus it may force Minsk to withdraw all its diplomats from the United States in retaliation for the expulsions.

Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko, in power since 1994, has long been accused of crushing freedom of speech and assembly. He has been barred from both the United States and European Union over allegations he rigged his 2006 re-election.

Washington says a resumption of dialogue is possible if Belarus releases its most prominent detainee, academic Alexander Kozulin, jailed for 5 1/2 years for helping stage mass protests against Lukashenko's election.

Reuters
Last Mod: 03 Mayıs 2008, 16:46
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