Minsk slams fuss over Abkhazia, S.Ossetia travel advice

MINSK, July 24 (RIA Novosti) - Belarus condemned on Friday what it said were attempts to cause a scandal over recent travel advice issued to nationals planning to travel to Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

Belarus's Foreign Ministry urged its nationals on Thursday to comply with Georgian laws when planning trips to Abkhazia and South Ossetia, self-proclaimed republics recognized by Russia as independent states after a brief war with Tbilisi last August.

The warning was welcomed by the Georgian president and criticized by Russian officials earlier on Friday.

"Attempts to start a scandal and give a political coloring to the Belarusian Foreign Ministry's advice on travel to Abkhazia and South Ossetia are absurd," a senior presidential administration official, Natalia Petkevich, said.

"Our position on Abkhazia and South Ossetia has not changed, and the rest is speculation by experts and journalists pursuing their interests," she said.

The ministry said it had issued the recommendations following the recent arrests of two Belarusian nationals in Georgia, who had visited Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Entry to the two regions without permission from the Georgian authorities is banned and liable to prosecution in Georgia.

"I cannot but welcome the actions of the Belarusian leader, who has decided to rule out such violations of Georgian laws. This is a very bold decision by the Belarusian president," Saakashvili said commenting on Belarus's advisory.

"Look at what is happening in the post-Soviet area. The Belarusian government has warned its citizens about the responsibility of illegally entering Abkhazia and South Ossetia," he said.

Petkevich called media reports on Moscow's possible "punishment" over the travel advice "puzzling."

Russia recognized the two republics after expelling Georgian forces from South Ossetia, which Tbilisi had attacked in an effort to bring it back under central control.

Moscow reportedly has put strong pressure on Belarus to recognize the two republics. Nicaragua has so far been the only other country to follow Russia's suit.



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