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Saturday, June 20, 1998 Published at 14:48 GMT 15:48 UK

World: Europe

Diplomatic stink in Belarus

The diplomats' homes are in an elite housing complex on the outskirts of the capital

More countries are recalling their ambassadors from Belarus in protest after power and water to their embassy compound in Minsk was cut off.

The ambassadors of the five European Union countries stationed in Minsk have informed the Belarus authorities that they will leave the country on Monday. The Turkish ambassador has already left, and the United States embassy is due to make a statement on Monday.

British ambassador Jessica Pierce: "a matter of principle"
Their action is the latest twist in a diplomatic row between the ambassadors and the President of Belarus, Alexander Lukashenko, over Minsk's elite diplomatic housing complex.

The official diplomatic compound on the outskirts of the capital is shared with President Lukashenko.

On Friday, the French, German, Italian and US ambassadors to Belarus were refused entry to their living quarters.

Belarus officials locked the ambassadors out of the residences despite an earlier deal promising diplomats they could continue living in the compound while repairs were carried out.

The dispute has been simmering since the diplomats were told to leave for essential repairs to be carried out on their homes.

The EU countries with ambassadors in Minsk are Germany, France, Britain, Italy, and Greece.

Calling in the plumbers

[ image: Access to the compound was blocked]
Access to the compound was blocked
On Thursday, President Lukashenko claimed the diplomatic compound had become his own residential territory, and said he needed to call the plumbers in.

But the ambassadors said the move violates the Vienna Convention on diplomatic practice and is a ploy to take over the whole wooded compound.

"In Drozdy, water and electricity are cut off, the road is blocked and security has been tightened," said one envoy. "We believe it is impossible to stay here if the Vienna Convention is being violated."

'Cat-and-mouse games'

"If Lukashenko thinks he can play cat-and-mouse games with the ambassadors of Germany and other countries then he is mistaken," said a spokesman for the German foreign ministry.

The US Ambassador, Daniel Speckhard, who also lives in the Drozdy compound, said Washington had not yet decided whether to recall him.

Correspondent Robert Parsons: Lukashenko has laid down a challenge to the international community
Russia's ambassador also lives in the compound but his situation is somewhat different as Moscow owns the building.

The German Foreign Ministry said it was considering asking Belarussian envoys to leave Germany.

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