Primakov to Visit Belarus

MOSCOW (Reuter)–Russian Foreign Minister Yevgeny Primakov is likely to travel to Belarus on Wednesday to tackle a crisis in Moscow’s relations with the former Soviet republic over arrested journalists–his ministry said on Tuesday.

A Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman’said by telephone the date of the visit was only provisional.

"It is probable that he will go to Minsk on Wednesday. Primakov will discuss the whole range of bilateral relations–including the problem with journalists," the spokesman’said.

President Boris Yeltsin on Monday instructed Primakov to sort out the problem and advised him to go to Minsk.

Relations between the two Slav states–which formed a close union in April–were soured this month when Belarus detained seven journalists from Russia’s ORT state television channel.

The detentions were made during two separate incidents over alleged attempts to cross the Belarussian border with Lithuania illegally.

Yeltsin’s press secretary–Sergei Yastrzhembsky–warned Belarus last Thursday the incident could threaten the union.

Belarus’s hard-line President Alexander Lukashenko reacted angrily–saying he would not respond to blackmail.

Four of the journalists–all Russian citizens–were freed on Friday. A fifth–who has Belarussian citizenship–was released Monday.

Two ORT journalists who are also Belarus citizens were still in custody facing charges punishable by up to five years in prison. Lukashenko has said they should face trial.

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