Belarus asks Lithuania, Sweden for help in arresting teddy bear bombers

By bne IntelliNews August 9, 2012

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Belarusian state security has asked Lithuania and Sweden to help it apprehend the "teddy bear bombers" and put them on trial in Minsk for violating both Belarusian and Nato airspace. Meanwhile, the EU is to hold an emergency meeting after all of Sweden's diplomats were asked on August 8 to leave Minsk.

Belarus spent July denying the incident, which saw Minsk and its surroundings showered with hundreds of teddy bears clutching placards calling for human rights to be respected by a Swedish public relations firm, Studio Total, that specializes in revolutionary advertisements. However, earlier in August, the government of President Alexander Lukashenko changed its tune, firing two high-ranking military officials for allowing the plane - which took off from Lithuania piloted by two Swedes - to penetrate the former Soviet air defences undetected. Lukashenko also told the incoming border guard chief not to hesitate to use weapons to prevent violations of Belarusian air space in future.

According to Belapan, the Belarusian KGB's PR chief Alexander Antanovich said that a request has been sent to Vilnius and Stockholm requesting assistance in the investigation of a violation of the Belarusian border by the airplane on July 4. Antanovich added that the Belarusian law enforcement agencies are asking the two countries for assistance to bring the perpetrators to Minsk so that an "objective investigation of the case" can take place.

Apparently without irony, the KGB man added that Minsk is working on the grounds of international law and existing procedures, and on the understanding that the unauthorized flight violated Nato air space as well as that of Belarus. Asked whether the KGB might accept an investigation by the Swedish authorities into the identity of the pilots, Antanovich remarked "an identification parade on television is not possible."

Last week, Minsk announced that it has declined to renew the Swedish ambassador's accreditation, prompting Sweden to respond with anger. Foreign Minister Carl Bildt accused the Lukashenko regime of having "seriously violated the standards of international relations" and in response would expel two Belarusian diplomats and the new Belarusian ambassador "would not be welcome" in Sweden.

On August 8, the Belarusian foreign ministry said it is to withdraw all embassy staff from Stockholm, and asked Sweden to pull its diplomats out of Minsk by August 30, reports RIA Novosti. That has prompted an emergency meeting of EU ambassadors in Brussels set for August 10.

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