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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Lukashenko Calls Envoys 'Guests'

Belarus' president said the envoys are living on his property.

MINSK, Belarus -- In the latest twist to a Cold War-style diplomatic dispute over ambassadors' residences in Belarus, the head of state Thursday claimed a diplomatic compound as his own residential territory.

Belarussian President Alexander Lukashenko let it be known that some 20 ambassadors who thought their residences had special extraterritorial status according to diplomatic convention were to be treated as "guests" on the grounds of what was described as his presidential residence.

The announcement came a day after the Belarus government had backed down in an international feud with ambassadors it wanted to evict on grounds that renovation work needed to be done on their residences.

As a deadline expired for the envoys to leave their residences, situated in a huge park near Minsk, the government said no new one would be set and that the dispute would be settled on a case-by-case basis.

But Thursday, Deputy Foreign Minister Nikolai Buzo announced that the diplomatic compound at Drozdy was now the Belarus president's residence.

Ambassadors there were henceforth "the guests" of Lukashenko.

Asked at a news briefing on the status of the territory on which the residences were situated, he replied, "Today, the ambassadors are effectively on the territory of the residence of President Lukashenko.

"You may consider them guests of the head of state," he continued. "They will receive passes and be allowed to enter the territory, but they will have to comply with the special security rules of a presidential residence."

Lukashenko, criticized at home and abroad for being heavy-handed, was originally going to evict the ambassadors June 10, but at the last minute he gave them another week to leave.

Of the diplomats involved, 15, including the United States, French, Japanese and German envoys, refused to budge, citing an international convention on diplomatic immunity and privileges.

All embassies lease the residences from the government.

The mainly western diplomats in the compound had braced themselves for imminent electricity and water cuts threatened by Belarus authorities in a bid to push them out, and had equipped themselves with mobile telephones and portable generators.

Asked where the decree was published altering the legal status of the compound, which up to now has had extra-territorial status in accordance with diplomatic convention, Buzo appeared to find himself in a diplomatic fix.

"It has already been published," he said. "Or at least it will be."