Teddy Bear stunt inciting a diplomatic row

Three Swedes behind the so-called "teddy bear" stunt in Belarus which is believed to have sparked a diplomatic row with Stockholm, have been summoned by Minsk's KGB security police, they said Saturday.

"We've received a document from the KGB… Three of us have been asked to appear before the KGB," Tomas Mazetti, the co-founder of the advertising agency that orchestrated the stunt, told Agence France-Presse (AFP).

Swedish activists flew a plane over Belarus early last month and dropped hundreds of teddy bears attached to little parachutes carrying signs calling for freedom of speech and human rights.

The KGB had said in a statement earlier it was investigating "the illegal crossing of the state border of Belarus by Sweden nationals in a small airplane."

In three separate "notices of appointment" written in English and posted on its website, the KGB said that Mazetti, Hannah Frey and Cromwell Per, all Swedish nationals, must appear before Belarus authorities within 10 days.

The notices said that if they did not comply they faced a fine or "correctional work for up to two years, or imprisonment for up to six months."

Mazetti said the letter did not spell out why the Swedes were being summoned, but his understanding was that they had been asked to appear as witnesses – not suspects.

"The letter refers to 'refusal or avoidance of a victim or a witness to appear', it doesn't refer to suspects," he said.

However, Mazetti said the Swedes would seek guarantees from the KGB before travelling to Minsk.

"We're going to demand guarantees that the KGB does not indict us. They've said they would agree to that previously, but we want guarantees," he said.

Mice under a broom

The KGB statement pledged to observe the Swedes' rights "in accordance with the Belarus' legislation."

On August 3, Minsk expelled the Swedish ambassador to Belarus alleging he was trying to "destroy" ties with the ex-Soviet state, a move Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt conceded could be linked to the teddy bear incident.

Sweden retaliated, refusing to welcome a new ambassador to replace an envoy who left the post several weeks ago, and withdrew residency permits for two Belarus diplomats who were asked to leave the Scandinavian country.

On August 8, Minsk announced it was expelling all Swedish diplomats, giving Sweden until August 30 to remove them, and closing its Stockholm mission.

Belarus' authoritarian President Alexander Lukashenko dismissed the country's top border control official and the top air force commander after the teddy bear incident.

Minsk also demanded that Vilnius investigate the incident, saying the Swedish plane had crossed into Belarus from Lithuania.

"Lithuania should not be sitting like mice under a broom. They must answer to us why they provided their territory for national border violation," Lukashenko was quoted as saying by the Interfax news agency on Thursday.

"If there is anyone who won't find it funny, it is Lithuania," he warned.

"Currently data is being collected, and the request for legal assistance will be considered," Ruta Dirsiene, the Lithuanian state prosecutors' spokesman, told AFP.

The European Union (EU) held an emergency meeting Friday to discuss a response to the expulsion of the Swedish diplomats but shied away from a mass diplomatic retaliation.

However EU Political and Security Committee chairman Olof Skoog said, "There is going to be a very clear message to all Belarussian ambassadors around Europe in the next few days.

European ambassadors to Belarus had been previously recalled in February after Minsk responded to new EU sanctions targeting Lukashenko's regime for human rights abuses by suggesting that envoys from Poland and the European Commission leave the largely isolated country.

Skoog said sanctions on Belarus would be discussed again in October, and that "the decision against the Swedish ambassy will of course also have an effect on how we discuss our relations with Belarus." – Sapa-AP.


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