[JURIST] The European Union [official website] Monday temporarily suspended its travel ban on Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko [official website; BBC profile] and several other Belarussian officials following the first high-level talks between Belarus and the EU in four years. A meeting of EU foreign ministers in Luxembourg [backgrounder] directed the ban be lifted in an attempt to encourage democratic reform and the improvement of human rights. Travel restrictions remain in place on four Belarussian officials who were allegedly involved in the disappearance of four opposition leaders in 2000. Recognizing that Belarus recently released jailed opposition leader Alexander Kozulin [JURIST report] and other political prisoners, an EU spokesperson was quoted [BBC report] by the BBC as saying 'We want to show that progress is being rewarded.' Reuters has more; EUobserver has additional coverage.
Lukashenko has recently sought to improve his country's ties with western nations, but EU-imposed sanctions have remained pending the release of all political prisoners, including Kozulin. While it lifted the travel ban for six months, the EU maintained asset freezes on top Belarussian officials. The US imposed its own travel ban on Lukashenko [JURIST report] in May 2006. The US State Department severely criticized Belarus' human rights record [JURIST report] in March in its annual human rights country reports.