EU to Continue Suspension of Travel Ban on Belarusian Officials

Liu Donghui

European Union (EU) foreign ministers decided on Monday to maintain the suspension of a travel ban on Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko and other senior officials.

The suspension was first introduced for six months in October 2008.

The ministers agreed to extend the travel ban for one year, but decided not to apply it for nine months to encourage Belarusian authorities to take "further concrete measures toward democracy and respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms."

The ministers, meeting in Brussels, warned that they might decide to re-apply the travel ban at any time "in the light of the actions of the Belarusian authorities in the sphere of democracy and human rights."

By the end of the nine-month period, the ministers will conduct an in-depth review of the ban and might lift it altogether provided that there are further positive developments.

"The European Union must continue its engagement as a support for positive developments in Belarus," said Czech Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzenberg, whose country holds the rotating EU presidency.

"We strongly believe that this decision will encourage measures toward democracy, the respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms in Belarus," he added.

However, he said Monday's decision of extending the travel ban and at the same time suspending its application reflects a "mixed situation" in Belarus.

The ministers welcomed positive steps taken by Belarus following their initial decision to suspend the travel ban in October 2008. However, they continue to express concerns about the human rights situation in Belarus, said Schwarzenberg.

He said the EU remains ready to deepen its relations with Belarus subject to progress made by Belarus on the path toward democracy, human rights and rule of law, and to assist Belarus in attaining these objectives.

A travel ban was imposed on Lukashenko and some 30 other officials in April 2006 for allegedly rigging March 2006 elections.



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