28.08.2005 - 18:27

Warsaw rejects new Polish ethnic leaders in Belarus

By Rob Strybel

WARSAW (Reuters) - Poland will not recognise newly elected leaders of a Polish ethnic organisation in Belarus because they were installed after pressure from President Alexander Lukashenko's regime, a senior diplomat said on Sunday.

Poland objected to the new leaders of the Union of Poles in Belarus on the grounds that they were hand-picked on Saturday by Lukashenko to replace the ousted pro-Warsaw leadership.

Poland, once in Moscow's orbit, has used its new political clout as a member of the European Union and NATO to criticise Lukashenko's government, arguing it is undemocratic, and has focussed on the situation of the Polish minority in the country.

Minsk accuses its neighbour Warsaw of plotting an uprising in Belarus similar to revolutions in Ukraine and Georgia and says Warsaw exploits the Polish minority to foment upheaval.

"The Polish government will not recognise the (Union's) authorities elected in this manner," Poland's Deputy Foreign Minister Jan Truszczynski told private all-news channel TVN24.

The election "violated all democratic norms", he said.

Dissident activists say Saturday's vote was orchestrated by an administration which only weeks ago sent commandos to forcibly eject the previous leaders from their headquarters.


The issue of the 400,000-strong Polish minority in Belarus has united Poland's political class ahead of general elections next month.

Popular centre-right leader Jan Rokita said Poland must tap into its 1980s Solidarity-era experience of toppling an oppressive regime and back a dissident movement in Belarus.

Conservative Ludwik Dorn went further, saying Poland should boycott the Union's new executive. "We should make it clear that (ousted leader Andzelia Borys) is the only partner for the Polish authorities," he told private radio Zet on Sunday.

Leftist Dariusz Szymczycha reiterated plans for Poland to set up a radio station broadcasting uncensored news to Belarus.

The row over the ethnic Poles has highlighted Western accusations that Lukashenko denies basic human rights, cracks down on opponents, silences the media and rigs elections.

It has also cooled relations between Poland and Russia, a friend of the Lukashenko regime. Three Polish diplomats were beaten up in Moscow after the mugging of Russian teenagers in Warsaw.

Poland has withdrawn its ambassador to Minsk while Belarus has denied entry to a group of parliamentarians from Poland.

Belarus's small, disunited opposition says the row amounts to an attempt by Lukashenko to secure control over one of Belarus's few well-organised non-government organisations ahead of next year's presidential elections.