Updated at 16:11,02-12-2016

EU Extends Suspension Of Visa Restrictions Against Belarusian Officials

The European Unions foreign ministers on November 17 prolonged the suspension of the blocs visa restrictions against top Belarusian officials but decided not to lift the sanctions entirely due to a lack of progress on political reform.

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 this past March to encourage the Belarusian government to carry out "further concrete measures towards democracy and respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms."

A statement approved by the EU foreign ministers at their November 17 meeting in Brussels said that the suspension would be extended until October 2010 to encourage further democratic advances
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The EUs freeze on possible assets owned by 41 Belarusian officials in the bloc remains in place, as do visa restrictions on the head of the country`s central election commission and four persons suspected of involvement in the 1999-2000 disappearances of Mr. Lukashenkas opponents.

The EU foreign ministers statement said that the recent release of internationally recognized political prisoners had opened up new possibilities for a dialogue between Belarus and the EU.

"The Council welcomes the increased high-level EU-Belarus political dialogue, the establishment of a Human Rights Dialogue, the intensified cooperation and the participation of Belarus in the Eastern Partnership, as ways of building mutual understanding and creating opportunities to address issues of concern," it said.

But the threat of sanctions will not be scrapped entirely because of Belarus` lack of progress on democracy.

"The Council deeply regrets the recent lack of significant progress in addressing its concerns in the area of human rights and fundamental freedoms, including as regards the crackdown on peaceful political actions and the continued denial of registration of many political parties, non-governmental organizations and independent media," the statement said. "The Council furthermore regrets the recent death sentences in Belarus and urges Belarus to introduce a moratorium on the death penalty, as an interim step leading to the early abolition of the death penalty."

The Belarusian government also should make progress toward reforms of the Electoral Code to bring it into line with OSCE commitments and other international standards, the statement said.

The sanctions will be reviewed by the Council of the European Union in October. "The Council may decide to reapply or lift travel restrictions at any time, in the light of actions by the Belarusian authorities in the sphere of democracy and human rights," the EU foreign ministers noted.

In October 2008, the 27-nation bloc suspended its travel sanctions against a total of 36 Belarusian officials and 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. Lukashenkas 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.

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.