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Monday, June 22, 1998 Published at 22:48 GMT 23:48 UK

World: Europe

US tells Belarussian diplomat to stay away

German Ambassador H E Horst Winkelmann with his luggage before leaving

The United States has become the latest country to retaliate in a row over foreign embassies in the former Soviet republic of Belarus.

The State Department in Washington has told the Belarussian ambassador not to return from holiday. Earlier it withdrew its own ambassador from the Belarussian capital, Minsk.

BBC's George Arney reports from Minsk
Several other countries, all five European Union states represented in Minsk, have already withdrawn their ambassadors from Belarus. Japan's ambassador is due to leave on Tuesday.

The Western ambassadors have complained that their power and water have been cut off and access roads have been blocked because of renovations. They say this may be a pretext by President Alexander Lukashenko to move them out.

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: German ambassador:
German ambassador: "This is incomprehensible and sad"
In reply, the Belarus Foreign Ministry has accused Western diplomats of flouting the laws and customs of the country.

"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"
President Lukashenko said that he was very surprised by the decision of the diplomatic corps to withdraw from Belarus.

Signal to Lukashenko

Mr Lukashenko 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.

[ image: Access to the diplomatic compound is denied]
Access to the diplomatic compound is denied
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.

British ambassador Jessica Pearce: "President Lukashenko cannot treat us in this way"
The British ambassador to Belarus, Jessica Pearce, said the exodus was meant as a signal to Mr Lukashenko.

"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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