MONDAY SEPTEMBER 03 2001
US adopts 'Contras policy' in communist Belarus
FROM ALICE LAGNADO IN MOSCOW
THE US Embassy in Belarus has admitted that it is pursuing a policy similar to that in 1980s Nicaragua, in which anti-government Contra rebels were funded and supported. President Lukashenko, a dictatorial Communist, is heading for victory in presidential elections on Sunday.
In an unusual admission, Michael Kozak, the US Ambassador to Belarus, said in a letter to a British newspaper that America's "objective and to some degree methodology are the same" in Belarus as in Nicaragua, where the US backed the Contras against the left-wing Sandinista Government in a war that claimed at least 30,000 lives. Mr Kozak was not available for comment.
Washington said recently that allegations of state-sanctioned death squads operating in Belarus, Europe's last bastion of communism, were "credible". Two former state prosecutors, who have been granted political asylum in America, have said that victims were murdered with a special pistol and buried in a cemetery in Minsk.
The ambassador's disclosure has coincided with moves by the Bush Administration to gain increased political influence in Eastern Europe and the Balkans and with reports in several European newspapers, which said that former US servicemen believed to be working for the CIA were escorted with Albanian guerrillas from a village in the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia earlier this year.
Earlier in his career, Mr Kozak served as Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for Inter-American Affairs under Presidents Reagan and Bush, working in Panama, Nicaragua and El Salvador, and was Ambassador to Cuba. While Mr Kozak was serving in Nicaragua, Mr Reagan famously compared the Contras to the French Resistance fighters.
President Lukashenko is popular and most Belarussians fear that a new, pro-Western leader would bring the poverty experienced by many Russians and Ukrainians after the transition to a market economy.
A spokesman for the US Embassy in Minsk told The Times that the embassy helped to fund 300 non-governmental organisations (NGOs), including non-state media, but did not fund political parties, since that is banned by law. He admitted that some of the NGOs were linked to those who were 'seeking political change'.
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