Belarus wants to end U.S. summer stays for children

MINSK, Belarus: Belarus said it would stop sending children for short summer stays with U.S. families after a girl taking part in such a program failed to return home, the second such incident in three years.

The authorities in Minsk initially accused a California family of keeping the 17-year-old in the United States.

The Belarussian news media later identified the girl as Tatyana Kozyro and said she had chosen to remain after her stay with a host family.

News reports said she was from a town north of Minsk, where she had lived with her grandmother.

Belarus was the Soviet state worst hit by the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear disaster, and "health stays" abroad for young people are common practice.

The Department for Humanitarian Activity said Thursday in a statement: "Given the situation concerning the illegal detention of a Belarussian minor on the territory of the United States, Belarus proposes an agreement be concluded on conditions" for such visits. "Pending conclusion of such an agreement, the Belarussian side regrets to say it is obliged to suspend health stays for children in the United States."

Belarussian officials say the girl, one of a group of 25 who were to have flown back to Minsk on Aug. 5, must by law return home and can choose where she wants to live on her 18th birthday.

U.S. diplomats said they wanted the matter resolved quickly.

In 2006, an Italian family concealed for three weeks a 10-year-old girl they had hosted for the summer, saying she had been mistreated at her orphanage.

That incident sparked an angry reaction in Belarus and prompted the authorities to tighten rules for holidays abroad and adoption procedures for foreigners.

The Belarussian president, Aleksandr Lukashenko, is accused in the West of crushing fundamental freedoms. Relations with the United States are particularly tense over sanctions introduced against the oil products company Belneftekhim.

The U.S. ambassador left Minsk in March at the urging of the authorities, and the embassy staff has twice been reduced.



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