Lithuania says it has blocked millions of euros of EU funding to Belarus

by Reuters
Wednesday, 7 October 2020 10:06 GMT

By Andrius Sytas

VILNIUS, Oct 7 (Reuters) - Lithuania has blocked payments to Belarus in a European Union-funded cross-border cooperation programme, fearing the money could be misused, the Lithuanian government told Reuters on Wednesday.

The EU has condemned crackdowns in Belarus after a disputed Aug. 9 election, and voted last week to impose travel bans and asset freezes on dozens of officials including President Alexander Lukashenko.

Neighbouring Lithuania has been one of the strongest supporters of a strong stance from Europe, and has hosted Lukashenko's main opponent, Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, who fled there after the vote.

Lithuanian Interior Ministry spokeswoman Bozena Zabarovska told Reuters on Wednesday that payments for the cross-border programme were ceased by Lithuania immediately after the post-election crackdowns began, out of fear that the funds would be misused by the Belarusian government.

"All payments were ceased until we receive clarification from European Commission on the apparent risks," she said.

Of the several payments stopped, one was around 3 million euros, she added.

The programme aims to develop regions on both sides of the border between Belarus and European Union members Latvia and Lithuania. The EU is due to contribute 74 million euros, with the funds for Belarus channeled through the neighbouring EU member states.

Under the initial plans, the EU was due to spend a total of 18.4 million euros on the programme in 2020, 10.7 million euros in 2021, and 3.5 million euros in 2022-2024.

The EU Observer newspaper reported on Tuesday that Belarus had purchased 15 surveillance drones using EU money, prompting alarm they could be used against pro-democracy protesters.

Lithuanian police chief Renatas Pozela told reporters the funds to pay for the drones were transferred to Belarus in first half of this year. (Reporting by Andrius Sytas Editing by Johan Ahlander and Peter Graff)

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