- The Washington Times - Friday, August 9, 2002

Belarus' complaints

Belarus' authoritarian government denounced a U.S. human rights report as politically motivated, but the U.S. Embassy in Belarus said the government's complaint only proves the charges in the document.

The Belarussian Foreign Ministry this week criticized the 2001 report, citing "political partiality in using invented or unverified facts in a legal document."

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The embassy, however, said the ministry's 49-page response to the report "largely tends to confirm the facts stated in the report, while disputing some characterizations and conclusions."

The report, released in March, said Belarus' human rights record "continued to be very poor and worsened in several areas."

"The authorities continue to limit severely the right of citizens to change their government," the report said.

It noted that last year's presidential election, which international observers condemned, was marked by "widespread human and civil rights violations, including physical mistreatment of opponents, manipulation of the regime-dominated mass media, intimidation of election observers and manipulation of the vote count."

The report added that the government of President Alexander Lukashenko imposed "severe restrictions" on the freedom of speech and religion and on peaceful assembly and association.

Responding to the government's criticism, the embassy said, "We would like nothing better than to include in the 2002 human rights report language that would indicate that the government of Belarus has taken significant steps to improve the human rights situation. However, our mandate is to report facts as they exist."

Progress in Philippines

The U.S. ambassador to the Philippines yesterday praised the success of the latest bilateral anti-terrorist operations but assured sensitive nationalists that the Pentagon has no intention of seeking military bases there again.

"We've made stunning progress," Ambassador Francis Ricciardone told a business forum in Manila, according to news reports.

The six-month training exercise by U.S. Army Special Forces units helped the Philippine army capture Islamic rebels who had kidnapped and killed American citizens. Another counterterrorist operation is set to begin in October.

Mr. Ricciardone said the military cooperation has made the Philippines "much less vulnerable" to terrorist attacks.

"That is good for our citizens, and that is bad for the terrorists," he said.

Mr. Ricciardone said the United States does not need bases in the Philippines any more because the international threat no longer comes from conventional armies.

"I am no Pentagon expert, but I can tell you this with great assurance, even as a layperson. We are not interested in bases in the Philippines. It's not going to happen," he said.

Honoring Croatia

Croatian President Stjepan Mesic will receive an award tomorrow from the American Bar Association to honor his support for democratic and economic reforms.

"Croatia's efforts to build a democratic society have not gone unnoticed," said Homer E. Moyer, chairman of the association's Central and East European Law Initiative, in a letter to Mr. Mesic.

"Your leadership has been instrumental in ensuring that Croatia has worked to adhere to democratic principles, which has not always been an easy task."

Mr. Mesic, a lawyer, was elected two years ago, following an interim presidency that succeeded Franjo Tudjman, who died in office. Mr. Tudjman was widely criticized for abusing human rights and blocking democratic reforms.

The award was designed to recognize leaders from the former Warsaw Pact nations who transform their countries from communism to Western-style democracies. The association honored Czech President Vaclav Havel last year.

Hall gets U.N. post

The Senate has confirmed Rep. Tony P. Hall to serve as U.S. ambassador to the food and agricultural agencies of the United Nations.

Mr. Hall, Ohio Democrat, plans to resign from Congress to accept the assignment in Rome later this month.

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