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Diplomatic row between Baltic states

Swedish ambassador thrown out of Belarus

Updated lördag 4 augusti 2012 kl 10.22
Published fredag 3 augusti 2012 kl 15.11
The Swedish ambassador, Stefan Eriksson, and Belarus president Alexander Lukashenko. Foto: Scanpix. Montage: Swedish Radio

Belarus has effectively expelled the Swedish ambassador amid criticism from the Swedish foreign ministry and the EU:s foreign policy chief, Catherine Ashton. But accoring to an expert in international law, Sweden's Baltic neighbour has acted in keeping with diplomatic practise.

The ambassador, Stefan Eriksson, was expelled Friday after the Belarus regime, led by president Alexander Lukashenko, accused him of being in contact with the opposition.

The news came Friday afternoon in Sweden's foreign minister Carl Bildt's Twitter feed as he wrote: “Lukashenko regime has expelled Swedish Ambassador to Belarus for being too supportive of human rights. Outrageous. Shows nature of regime.”

Ove Bring, an expert in international law, told news agency TT that the Belarussian decision is in accordance with diplomatic rules.

"We can criticize the reason Belarus is giving, but not the action itself," Bring said. "That is a part of international diplomacy."

But Bildt, writing in his blog, said that “This is obviously a serious violation of the relations between states", adding that "in no other country is freedom so oppressed, and the regime so authoritarian, as in Belarus."

Bildt also said Sweden would not accept a new ambassador from Belarus to fill the currently vacant position. Two other Belarussian diplomats have been asked to leave the country.

A Belarusian foreign ministry spokesman told news agency AFP that the ambassador's "activity was aimed not at strengthening Belarusian-Swedish relations but destroying them," and that "a decision was made not to renew his credentials."

Bildt writes that Belarus' foreign minister, Sergei Martynov, told him on 23 July that Alexander Lukashenko, the country's president, was growing irritated with ambassador Stefan Eriksson's contacts with opposition figures.

"What Ambassador Eriksson is accused of is nothing more than being a local and effective representative of the policies of Sweden and the European Union," Bildt writes.

Catherine Ashton, the EU's foreign policy chief, reacted strongly to the decision and wrote in an email to Swedish Television that "what actions are suitable" will be discussed at upcoming summits.

Ambassador Eriksson, Bildt said, will continue in his position with “a stronger focus” on human rights.

The news comes the day after the president of the hardline state fired two senior generals because a Swedish PR firm reportedly chartered a plane that flew into the country dropping teddy bears bearing banners in support of human rights.

Carl Bildt says there is no independent confirmation the event took place, despite footage of the flight being published, and the issue has not been taken up in connection with Belarus’ decision to expel the ambassador.

Our journalism is based on credibility and impartiality. Swedish Radio is independent and not affiliated to any political, religious, financial, public or private interests.
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