09.08.2005 - 09:39 CET

Polish MEPs denied entry to Belarus

By Honor Mahony

A delegation of Polish MEPs intending to provide support to the Polish minority in Belarus were on Monday (8 August) denied access to the country.

The four-person delegation, headed by vice-president of the European Parliament Jacek Sariusz-Wolski, wanted to visit the city of Grodno as a gesture of support for the Polish minority.

The MEPs wanted to conduct a study on human rights and democratic standards, looking particularly at the recent conflict between the government and the Poles.

Polish diplomat Bogdan Adam Klich, chairman of the European Parliament's delegation for relations with Belarus, told Radio Free Europe "I don't understand their decision. I think this action is illegal. The administration [of Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko] violates the basic principles of international law, and the international community should draw conclusions from that."

Relations between Poland and Belarus have been strained for months. Minsk has arrested several Polish community leaders and accused Poland of backing a US-supported effort to unseat the government.

President Lukashenko fears a democratic uprising in his country similar to the one that took place in Ukraine last year.

Poland has been calling on the EU to take action against Belarus after its authorities last month raided the headquarters of the Association of Poles.

Around 400,000 Poles lives in Belarus, which Washington has called "Europe's last dictatorship".