Committee probes deeper into diplomat's death in Belarus

VILNIUS - Parliament's national security and defense committee announced it would conduct a broader investigation into the circumstances behind a diplomatic security officer's mysterious death in Belarus.

Law enforcement officers provided the National Security and Defense Committee with information on Vytautas Pociunas' appointment to Belarus on Sept. 4. However, members of the committee admitted that many questions remain unanswered.

The committee therefore decided to launch a parliamentary investigation.

In the words of Alvydas Sadeckas, chairman of the committee, investigators will not only look into issues related to the officer's death but also inquire about the State Security Department's activities, working principles and structural reorganization that occurred before Pociunas was sent to Belarus.

Sadeckas mentioned the department's "organization of work, relationships with personnel, moral atmosphere and reform issues" as specific areas that the committee would inquire about.

The chairman did not say whether this information dispelled the committee's suspicions about Pociunas' appointment to Belarus, adding that "it was a closed-door meeting."

President Valdas Adamkus has tried to calm public unease surrounding the case, saying that the tragic incident would not affect Lithuania's foreign policy toward Belarus. Hasty conclusions should not be drawn until the case is fully investigated, he said.

The president added that he did not want the issue to be politicized until the probe comes to a close.

"Lithuania's position toward Belarus has been stated clearly. I would like to note that the tragic incidents involving our officers are being investigated. I don't want them to be politicized and turned into a tool for bilateral relations. Let's wait for the final results and then we can make a decision," Adamkus told the press on Sept. 5.

Lithuania has criticized Belarus for human rights violations and has recently voiced outward support for democratic opposition in the country.

Pociunas, who worked at Lithuania's consulate in Grodno, died mysteriously on Aug. 23. The diplomat's body was discovered outside his hotel in Brest, where he was staying on business. It is believed that Pociunas fell from his ninth story window, although many believe he was murdered. Belarusian officers insist the death was an accident.

Following the Lithuanian security officer's death in Brest, a number of politicians asked parliament to look into the circumstances behind his appointment to Belarus. They said it was suspicious that such a high-ranking and experienced State Security Department officer had been sent to work in Belarus' "backwoods."

Before being appointed to Belarus, Pociunas, who held the rank of senior state adviser, headed the State Security Department's national economic and energy security office.

Deputy Prosecutor General Gintaras Jasaitis said that, so far, there have been no obstacles to the pre-trial investigation into Pociunas' death.

"The pretrial investigation is proceeding quite effectively. Our cooperation with Belarusian law enforcement institutions is quite constructive. Belarus has responded to our first three requests for legal assistance and this is a good sign. I hope the last request will be satisfied within a week," Jasaitis told reporters.

He did not provide further details on the probe, but said that "all versions are being investigated."