Belarus sanctions remain suspended

The EU's foreign ministers have agreed to keep sanctions against Belarus suspended. This means a travel ban on President Alexander Lukashenko and his entourage will not be enforced.

However, the EU is trying to keep up pressure on Minsk to reform towards democracy, and improve its record on human rights. A suspension of the sanctions - imposed to show disaproval for alleged vote-rigging in 2006 - began last year as a reward for the freeing of political prisoners.

In Brussels, Luxembourg's foreign minister said: "I really think we won't get anything if we continue to isolate Belarus. This means that we need to open up, not to Lukashenko or other big figures, but for the people themselves, to show them that here in Brussels we are open for dialogue with the people of Belarus. That's why we can not only concentrate on the sanctions or on isolation."

In spite of Europe's recent change of tack, Lukashenko surprised EU officials last week by cancelling a meeting at the last moment.

Belarus is a key transit state for Russian energy exports to Europe, but although a partnership-building summit is scheduled in May between the EU and six ex-Soviet states, there has been no decision yet on whether to invite him.



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