Sep 27 2005, 12:56

Ukraine offers to help mediate between Belarus and EU

(AP) - Ukraine offered Sept. 25 to help mediate between Belarus and the European Union amid growing European criticism over the recent crackdown on Belarus' Polish minority.

"We are prepared to act in the role as a friendly side," acting Foreign Minister Borys Tarasyuk said after talks with his Belarusian counterpart, Sergei Martynov.

Martynov said, however, that Belarus "doesn't need outside help."

The government of Belarus' authoritarian President Alexander Lukashenko has put increasing pressure on the Polish minority, and relations with neighboring Poland have deteriorated as Warsaw pushes for democratic change in the ex-Soviet republic.

Lukashenko accuses Poland, with the backing of the European Union and the United States, of encouraging Belarus' Poles to help oust him in mass protests similar to those that ushered the pro-western opposition into power in neighboring Ukraine last year.

About 500,000 ethnic Poles, or around 5 percent of the population, are concentrated in the west, near the Polish border.

The Council of Europe also recently expressed its concerns over political persecution against independent journalists and civil rights activists in Belarus. Lukashenko, who has ruled since 1994, has quashed dissent, closed independent media and suppressed opposition parties, turning him into a pariah in Western Europe.

Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko has made membership in the European Union a goal for this ex-Soviet republic.

"We are going to come to an agreement about where Ukraine may be helpful in this dialogue between Belarus and international organizations," Tarasyuk said.