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Russia says suspected mercenaries detained by Belarus are wrongly accused

Russia says suspected mercenaries detained by Belarus are wrongly accused

Russia demanded an explanation from Belarus on Thursday over what it said was Minsk's wrongful arrest of a group of alleged Russian mercenaries accused of plotting acts of terrorism.

  • Reuters
  • Last Updated: July 30, 2020, 9:12 PM IST
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MOSCOW/MINSK Russia demanded an explanation from Belarus on Thursday over what it said was Minsk’s wrongful arrest of a group of alleged Russian mercenaries accused of plotting acts of terrorism.

The arrests risk worsening already strained relations between Belarus and traditional ally Russia, which has scaled back economic support after becoming disenchanted with the pace of integration between the two countries.

Belarusian state television broadcast footage on Wednesday of more than 30 suspected Russian private military contractors being detained near the capital Minsk. Authorities said they had received information that over 200 fighters had entered the country to destabilise it before an Aug. 9 presidential election.

A criminal case was opened on Thursday after Belarus said it suspected “the preparation of terrorist acts”. Some of the captured men confessed to trying to orchestrate a revolution, and Russia’s ambassador was summoned to explain, officials said.

Belarusian authorities say they believe the husband of opposition presidential candidate Svetlana Tikhanouskaya may have ties to the Russian group and have launched a criminal case against him on suspicion of inciting riots, the Belta news agency reported.

Tikhanouskaya told Reuters in an interview that neither she nor Syarhei, her jailed husband, had anything to do with the alleged plot.

EXPLANATION DEMANDED

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Moscow wanted an exhaustive explanation from Belarus about the group detained and hoped their rights would be observed fully.

“We don’t have information about any illegal activity carried out by them,” Peskov said in Moscow. “We hope to receive information that will allow us to sort this out”.

Dmitry Mezentsev, Russia’s ambassador to Belarus, said the men had been transiting Belarus en route to a third unnamed country and were not involved in any way with the domestic affairs of Belarus.

“According to information that has yet to be confirmed, the Russians may be employees of a private security company, which … has been commissioned to guard energy infrastructure and resources abroad but certainly not in Belarus,” Mezentsev said in a statement.

He said the group had been forced to extend their short stopover in Belarus because they had missed their original flight.

The Belarusian election campaign has posed the biggest challenge in years to President Alexander Lukashenko, who has allowed little dissent in over a quarter of a century in power in the country of 9.5 million between Russia and European Union member state Poland.

Authorities announced additional security measures for campaign events on Thursday. The opposition feared Lukashenko would use the alleged plot to intensify a crackdown on rivals.

Lukashenko, 65, has accused opponents of working with foreign backers to overthrow him and has jailed two of his main election rivals.

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Disclaimer: This post has been auto-published from an agency feed without any modifications to the text and has not been reviewed by an editor

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  • First Published: July 30, 2020, 9:12 PM IST
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