Belarusian leader Lukashenko says he wants to avoid “confrontation” in impasse of migrants at Polish border

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Belarusian leader Alexander Lukashenko said on Tuesday he wanted to avoid confrontation over migrants at the Polish border in a crisis the EU accused him of orchestrating.

His comments came after the EU and US pledged to expand sanctions against Belarus this week, with thousands of migrants, mostly from the Middle East, camping at the Polish border in freezing temperatures.

Brussels said Belarus’s authoritarian leader lured migrants to the EU’s gates, accusations Minsk denied.

“We cannot let this so-called problem lead to a heated confrontation,” Lukashenko told a government meeting, according to the state-run Belta news agency.

“The main thing now is to protect our country and our people, and not to allow clashes.”

Lukashenko discussed the crisis with Germany’s Angela Merkel on Monday, his first phone call with a Western leader since he cracked down on mass protests against his regime last year.

The Belarusian strongman – in power since 1994 and accused by the West of rigging an election last year – said the two men agreed to the stalemate being defused.

“We agreed that no one needs an escalation, neither the EU nor Belarus,” he said.

But he said they had “different” views with Merkel on how the migrants got to Belarus, with the West claiming Minsk brought them there in revenge for the sanctions.

EU foreign ministers agreed that existing sanctions against the Lukashenko regime will be extended to include people or companies known to have encouraged border crossing.

“We are not rounding up all the refugees in the world and taking them to Belarus, as Poland told the EU,” Lukashenko said, adding that Minsk had expelled around 5,000 migrants.

Poland to start building wall as migrants crowd at border

First signs of de-escalation

Merkel’s office said the couple discussed providing humanitarian assistance to migrants – including many young children – stranded at the border.

French Europe Minister Clément Beaune said on Monday that there were signs of the crisis being de-escalated, while calling for “caution”.

“Europe has been swift, united and firm on this crisis,” he told France 2 television channel. “It’s doing the right thing.”

Belarus’ Russian ally, President Vladimir Putin, called on the EU to speak directly to Minsk.

But Beaune said the “first steps back” were not related to Putin, but to the “unity” of the EU.

Syrian teenager buried near Polish-Belarusian border

Lukashenko also said on Tuesday that the UAE would help resolve the crisis.

“The leaders of this country have a lot of experience in working with refugees, they have already been involved in solving similar problems around the world and have worked with thousands of refugees,” he said.

He did not provide further details.

Many migrants had arrived in Belarus after taking flights from Dubai.

Iraq has announced that it will begin voluntary repatriations of its Belarusian citizens this week, but many migrants, including those with whom AFP spoke, have vowed not to return.

(AFP)

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