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EU to Recall Belarus Envoys in Housing Row

<i> From Times Wire Services</i>

The 15-nation European Union decided on Friday to recall its ambassadors from Belarus amid a growing row over an elite housing complex some of them share with President Alexander G. Lukashenko, a senior diplomat said.

The move comes two days after Lukashenko’s government reached a reported compromise with the ambassadors allowing diplomats to stay if they are ready to face some “inconvenience.”

But on Friday, water and electricity to the compound were shut down--surprising the diplomats.

“We thought that wouldn’t happen after the compromise we reached,” German Ambassador Horst Winkelman told reporters.

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Workers also dug a ditch immediately inside the compound’s gates, preventing cars from entering. French Ambassador Bernard Fassier took a bicycle from his car’s trunk to ride to his residence, while others walked.

Diplomats were given temporary IDs valid until the end of the year to enter their residences.

They were also told that they will have to ask Lukashenko’s security service for special permission if they want to invite someone to the grounds, or even walk from one residence to another to meet their neighbors, a Lithuanian diplomat said.

Bulgaria’s ambassador to Minsk, Marko Ganchev, said EU envoys agreed to the recall move at a meeting at the British Embassy.

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“The governments of the EU states took a decision to recall their ambassadors from Belarus for an undetermined time,” Ganchev said. “An official decision will be formalized this evening, and they will leave on Monday.”

The former Soviet republic has been trying to force the ambassadors out of their homes in a pleasant wooded area on the outskirts of the capital of Minsk, claiming that the compound is badly in need of sewer and plumbing repairs.

The ambassadors have refused, saying the order violates the Vienna Convention, which designates homes of ambassadors as territory of their countries.

U.S. Ambassador Daniel Speckhard has said envoys would prefer to remain in the complex during repairs. He also noted that he has had no problems with his water or sewage system in the year his family has lived there.

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Speckhard said Friday that Washington has not yet decided whether to recall him.

Lukashenko claims that the diplomatic residences are his own property. He has a residence adjacent to the compound.

The government has offered the ambassadors new apartments in downtown Minsk, cottages 20 miles outside Minsk or plots on which to build new residences.


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