Belarus seeks return of foster child from U.S.

By Andrei Makhovsky

MINSK (Reuters) - Authorities in ex-Soviet Belarus on Wednesday demanded the return home of a girl who failed to turn up for a flight after spending the summer with a family in the United States, the second such incident in three years.

U.S. diplomats in Minsk, embroiled for months in a diplomatic row over sanctions, said they were undertaking efforts to ensure the girl, a minor, flew home.

Belarus's foreign ministry said the girl was born in 1991 and lived in a town north of Minsk with her grandmother.

She was one of a group of 25 children spending time with a host family parents in and around San Francisco, a common practice in the ex-Soviet state worst hit by the effects of the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear disaster.

"The group was to have flown back on August 5, but this girl and the family she was staying with did not appear at the airport and the flight was therefore delayed," ministry spokesman Maria Vanshina told a news conference.

"Our consul is now there and we are taking steps to bring home this underage citizen of Belarus."

A note had been presented to charge d'affaires Jonathan Moore, the most senior of five diplomats at the U.S. embassy in Minsk, demanding the girl's immediate return.

Moore told reporters it was in Belarus's interest to secure "the swift return home of all members of this group. The embassy and state department are working closely with the Belarussian side to resolve this situation as quickly as possible.

"For us, such a resolution is linked with the return home to Belarus of this individual."

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.

The incident sparked an angry reaction in Belarus and prompted authorities to impose tougher regulations on holidays abroad for children and adoption procedures for foreigners.

Belarus is accused in the West of violating basic freedoms. Relations have particularly deteriorated with Washington, with authorities in March calling for the departure of the U.S. ambassador and ordering two cuts in embassy staff.

Washington has made an improvement in ties contingent on the release of academic Alexander Kozulin, jailed for helping stage protests against President Alexander Lukashenko's 2006 re-election.

(writing by Ron Popeski)



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