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US and EU Allow Belarus Ministers to Travel Freely Once Again

The US has joined the EU in rescinding the visa restrictions on top-level Belarus ministers. This was announced by Deputy Spokesman for the US Department of State Philip Ricker yesterday.

He said that this move had been taken as a result of improving relations between Belarus and the OSCE, which has recently been allowed to open a representative office in Minsk. 'We expect the Belarus leadership to continue cooperating with the OSCE in every way,' said Mr Ricker.

However, Mr Ricker added that both the US and the EU are concerned about the consistently low level of democracy in Belarus. 'We have asked the Belarus leadership several times to stop persecuting political opponents and journalists and grant the mass media greater freedom and also to cooperate with international organisations,' insisted Mr Ricker. He said that any progress with democratic reform would be regarded by the US and the EU as a step towards better relations with Belarus.

The EU and the US both imposed visa restrictions on several highly placed Belarus ministers, including President Alexander Lukashenko, in November 2002 when Belarus refused to prolong the diplomatic accreditation of OSCE observers working in Minsk.

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