U.S. Regrets Belarus Decision To Close OSCE Office In Minsk

The United States on Monday "deeply" regretted the decision of Belarusian government to close down the office of Organization for Security and Co-operation In Europe (OSCE) in Minsk

Regretting the decision, PJ Crowley, the State Department spokesman told journalists, "Unfortunately, this is a step backwards in the development of democratic government and respect for human rights in Belarus."

"It was founded to assist the Belarusian government in institution building, promoting the rule of law, and encouraging outreach to civil society," noted Crowley, adding, "And the mandate of that mission is not completed, as the OSCE's critical assessment of the presidential elections indicates."

Earlier, the OSCE Chairperson-in-Office, Lithuanian Foreign Minister Audronius Azubalis, said in a statement that the Chairmanship had started consultations that aim to find a solution that would enable the OSCE to continue its work in Belarus.??

"I deeply regret that the Belarusian authorities did not extend the mandate of the OSCE Office in Minsk. The OSCE Chairmanship will work together with Belarus and the other OSCE participating States to continue the Organization's important work in the country. We have started informal consultations to find an agreement acceptable to all," Azubalis said.

There was scathing criticism from OSCE on the landslide win of incumbent President Alexander Lukashenko in the December 19 presidential elections and the subsequent governmental crackdown on the opposition.

Tony Lloyd, who was heading the OSCE observer mission in Belarus, during the election said in a post-election statement, "The counting process lacked transparency," adding, "The people of Belarus deserved better. And, in particular, I now expect the government to account for the arrests of presidential candidates, journalists and human rights activists."

Announcing the decision on the New Year's eve, Belarusian foreign ministry spokesman Andrei Savinykh said in a statement, "The Belarussian side has taken the decision not to prolong the mandate of the OSCE office in Minsk."

The OSCE has maintained a presence in Minsk since 1998. The mandate of the Office must be renewed annually by the 56 OSCE participating States and it expired on December 31, 2010.


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