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Monday, June 22, 1998 Published at 17:39 GMT 18:39 UK

World: Europe

US and Japan recall ambassadors from Belarus

German Ambassador H E Horst Winkelmann with his luggage before leaving

BBC's George Arney reports from Minsk
The ambassadors of five European Union countries and that of the United States have left the former Soviet republic of Belarus in protest at being refused access to their residential compound.

Japan's ambassador is due to leave on Tuesday.

The EU and the US have also called for Belarus to withdraw its ambassadors from their countries.

In reply the Belarus Foreign Ministry has accused Western diplomats of flouting the laws and customs of the country.

British ambassador Jessica Pearce: "President Lukashenko cannot treat us in this way"
The ambassadors from Germany, France, Britain, Italy, Greece, the US and Japan are leaving after the Belarussian authorities on Friday shut off water and gas from their compound and denied access.

[ image: German ambassador:
German ambassador: "This is incomprehensible and sad"
"I hope we will not be going for long, but everything that has happened is incomprehensible and sad," said the German ambassador Horst Winkelmann.

President Alexander Lukashenko: "I fail to see any problem"
The Belarussian President Alyaksandr Lukashenko said that he was very surprised by the decision of the diplomatic corps to withdraw from Belarus.

Signal to Lukashenko

Mr Lukashenko, himself also lives in the wooded Drozdy complex outside the capital, which was home to about 20 foreign ambassadors until this week.

[ image: Access to the diplomatic compound is denied]
Access to the diplomatic compound is denied
He told the envoys last month they would have to move out, saying the buildings needed repair.

Correspondents say Mr Lukashenko is trying to take over the complex.

The government has offered the ambassadors new apartments in downtown Minsk, cottages 20 miles outside Minsk or plots on which to build new residences.

But the ambassadors say the order to leave the complex violates the Vienna Convention, which designates homes of ambassadors as territory of their countries.

The British ambassador to Belarus, Jessica Pearce, said the exodus was meant as a signal to Mr Lukashenka.

"The point of us leaving is to show him that he cannot treat us in the way that he expects to be able to treat anyone in his country," she said.

"Ambassadors are expected to be treated with a certain status, a certain respect and a certain common courtesy. If there is a technical problem then tell us straight," she added.

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