Alyaksandr Lukashenka has declined Lithuania’s invitation to attend festivities that will be held in Vilnius on March 11 to mark 20 years since the Baltic state declared its independence from the Soviet Union, his press office said on Wednesday.
Deputy Prime Minister Viktar Burya will lead Belarus’ official delegation to the celebrations. The press office said that Mr. Lukashenka had informed Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaite of his decision.
He extended his "sincere gratitude" for the invitation and noted "a high potential for the further development of political, economic and cultural ties in the interests of the Belarusian and Lithuanian peoples," the press office said.
"The President of Belarus emphasized the importance of strengthening a dialogue at the highest state level and confirmed that his invitation for the leader of the Lithuanian state to visit the Republic of Belarus still holds," it noted.
Mr. Lukashenka visited Lithuania last on September 16, 2009 to attend a Belarusian-Lithuanian economic forum. He met with Ms. Grybauskaite as part of his visit. The meeting was said to have lasted some two hours.
In late January, Ms. Grybauskaite made clear that a decision whether or not to invite Mr. Lukashenka to the independence anniversary festivities would depend on the progress in its effort to have a Soviet-era general extradited from Belarus.
"As I have already mentioned, we are currently holding talks with Belarus, trying to hear what steps there will be in cooperation concerning the Uskhopchyk case," she said when asked by a reporter about whether Mr. Lukashenka would be invited to the festivities.
The Belarusian Prosecutor General’s Office notified the Lithuanian authorities earlier that month of its refusal to hand over Uladzimir Uskhopchyk wanted by Lithuania on murder and other charges over his role in Soviet troops’ violent raids in Vilnius in January 1991.
The Office said that the extradition of a Belarusian citizen to Lithuania was impossible. In a radio interview in January, Ms. Grybauskaite acknowledged that Vilnius had no legal grounds to demand the extradition of General Uskhopchyk from Belarus and said that she would seek to solve the matter through a "political dialogue."
On March 2, a spokesman for the Prosecutor General`s Office in Minsk said that the general was questioned a few days earlier at the request of Lithuanian law-enforcement agencies. The spokesperson said that the interview records had been sent to Lithuania.