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Monday, July 13, 1998 Published at 23:03 GMT 00:03 UK

World: Europe

USA joins EU in visa ban on Belarus officials

President Alexander Lukashenko has locked horns with the West

The United States has said it will join the European Union in imposing punitive measures on Belarussian officials for evicting ambassadors from their residences in the capital, Minsk.

The European Union has introduced a visa ban for Belarussian President Alexander Lukashenko and 130 members of his government.

The visa ban is a reaction to the decision by the authorities in Minsk to tear down enclosures and remove dipomatic seals from the residences of several Western ambassadors who were evicted from the Belarussian capital last month.

The EU says the Belarussians' behaviour was "unlawful and unacceptable" and their action is being supported by 10 other countries.

According to French diplomats, the seal on the French ambassador's residence was broken and workers have started to dismantle the fence around it.

'Intolerable violation of the Vienna Convention'

In a confidential letter sent to President Lukashenko at the weekend the Austrian Foreign Minister, Wolfgang Schuessel, who currently holds the presidency of the EU, said it was an intolerable violation of the Vienna Convention on diplomatic relations.

[ image: Belarussian soldiers have sealed off the diplomatic compound]
Belarussian soldiers have sealed off the diplomatic compound
In his reply President Lukashenko objected to Mr Schuessel's choice of language, saying: "I would like to remind you that you are addressing a Head of State."

On a more conciliatory note his Foreign Minister, Ivan Antonovich, reassured Mr Schuessel there would be no more bringing down the fences or breaking the seals.

He also accepted the suggestion that talks on the residencies should continue with the German ambassador to Belarus.

Barred from travelling to most European countries

Mr Lukashenko and his foreign minister are barred from travelling to most European countries as a result of the ban.

On a list which reads like a Who's Who of Belarussian politics and administration, the EU has included all members of the government, their advisers on protocol, as well as the head of the local KGB and his three deputies.

The official reason for locking the ambassadors out of their homes was the need to repair the plumbing at the diplomatic compound in Minsk. But President Lukashenko, whose presidential palace is nearby, later said he did not want foreign diplomats as his neighbours.

His position seems to have remained unchanged, despite the ambassadors' subsequent departure from Belarus. Mr Lukashenko has been widely criticised for human rights abuses and failure to introduce economic reforms.

After the latest EU sanctions Belarus is left an international pariah along with Yugoslavia, Burma and Nigeria.

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