Updated at 16:11,02-12-2016

EU expected to extend suspension of entry ban on Belarusian officials

The European Union plans to extend the suspension of an entry ban on Alyaksandr Lukashenka and other Belarusian officials, the Brussels-based online newspaper EUobserver said on October 21.

"EU diplomats agreed the measures and an accompanying communique in Brussels on Thursday," the EUobserver said, adding that EU foreign ministers would "rubber-stamp the deal" during their October 25 meeting in Brussels.

In particular, the ministers are expected to renew the travel ban for a further 12 months but, at the same time, suspend the measures for 12 months.
The Council of the European Union "deeply regrets" the "lack of progress" in areas such as rule of law, human rights, free speech, freedom of association and freedom of assembly, the communique says, according to the newspaper.

"The Council reiterates the importance of the EU's critical engagement policy toward Belarus and the continuation of high-level EU-Belarus political dialogue as ways of building mutual understanding and creating opportunities to address issues of concern," the communique says.

The Council urges the Belarusian government to ensure that the forthcoming presidential election meets international norms and standards and welcomes Minsk's decision to invite Western monitors.

Thursday's discussion on the phrase "critical engagement" saw some EU diplomats interpret the words as meaning that the European Union is critical in a negative sense of the political situation in the country, the EUobserver said. Others saw it as meaning that EU-Belarus relations are at critical stage because the elections are a make-or-break opportunity to upgrade ties, the newspaper said.

"The European Commission has drafted a so-called Joint Interim Plan (JIP) for Belarus, a 20-or-so-page-long checklist of reforms to be conducted over the next three to five years," the newspaper said. "The JIP could be put in play after the elections if there are no gross violations, such as mass jailings or beatings, and if Belarus agrees."

In October 2008, the European Union suspended for six months its travel ban against Alyaksandr Lukashenka and 35 other Belarusian officials. The suspension of the sanctions was prolonged for another nine months in March 2009 and extended until October 2010 in November 2009 to encourage democratic advances on the part of Minsk.

The EU imposed the entry ban on Mr. Lukashenka and many other Belarusian officials following the March 2006 presidential election over alleged violations of international election standards and crackdowns on post-election protest.

When suspending the travel sanctions against the 36 Belarusian officials in October 2008, the EU left them in place for five, including Lidziya Yarmoshyna, head of the central election commission, and four persons suspected of involvement in the 1999-2000 disappearances of Mr. Lukashenka’s opponents. The four are: former Interior Minister Uladzimir Navumaw, former Prosecutor General Viktar Sheyman, former Interior Minister Yury Sivakow, and Dzmitry Pawlichenka, a former commander of an Interior Troops unit. The latter three were implicated by the so-called Pourgourides Report in the alleged abduction and murder of opposition politicians Yury Zakharanka and Viktar Hanchar, businessman Anatol Krasowski and journalist Dzmitry Zavadski.