Updated at 13:48,15-08-2017

Deputy foreign minister indicates that Belarus is not ready to enact local border traffic agreement with Poland

By Tanya Korovenkova, BelaPAN

Belarus will not say at present when its local border traffic agreement with Poland will be enacted, Belarusian Deputy Foreign Minister Alyaksandr Huryanaw told reporters Tuesday in Minsk following a meeting of an interstate commission for cross-border cooperation.

Mr. Huryanaw noted that there had been a certain improvement in the relations between the two countries recently, and that the provinces were raising the local border traffic issue. However, the Belarusian government wants to be ready for enacting the accord and does not discuss specific dates at the moment, he said.

What makes the situation more difficult is that the agreement applies to about 1.5 million people in Belarus and Poland, Mr. Huryanaw said. He warned against the premature enactment of the accord, noting that a further increase in the heavy border traffic between the two countries might lead to a collapse.

Mr. Huryanaw stressed that is was necessary to improve the infrastructure of crossings at the shared border to enable checkpoints to handle more people and cargoes.

According to Mr. Huryanaw, participants at Tuesdays meeting discussed three new agreements, including an updated border regime agreement, an agreement on cooperation in emergency management, and an agreement on the joint operation of road and railroad bridges at the shared border.

Funds for the maintenance of existing bridges and the construction of new bridges will be provided both from the national budgets and in the form of the European Unions technical assistance, Mr. Huryanaw said.

Polands deputy interior minister, Piotr Stachanczyk, described the atmosphere of the meeting as very friendly. The Polish delegation reported on the implementation of local border traffic agreements with Russia and Ukraine, while the Belarusian delegation informed the Polish guests about the steps that had been taken by Minsk to put the Belarusian-Polish local border traffic agreement into effect, he said.

Under the agreement, signed in February 2010 and ratified by both countries later that year, people who reside within 50 kilometers of the shared border will be allowed to cross the border without a visa if they have a special local border traffic permit, which will allow them to stay within the 50-kilometer border zone on the other side of the border for up to a total of 90 days within a year.

In 2011, opposition activists launched a campaign for speeding up the agreement. They staged several protests in Hrodna and Brest last year and collected thousands of signatures for their petitions.

Belarus has signed local border traffic agreements with not only Poland but also Latvia and Lithuania. The agreement with Latvia took effect on February 1, 2012, while the agreements with Lithuania and Poland shall come into force 30 days after the two countries are notified by Belarus of the completion of domestic procedures for implementing them.

Andrey Savinykh, the then spokesman for the Belarusian foreign ministry, said last spring that there were no plans to start implementing the agreement any time soon because of the "rather tough anti-Belarusian stance" of the Polish government.

The establishment of local border traffic with Poland and Lithuania is impeded by political and economic problems, Alyaksandr Lukashenka told reporters in January 2013.