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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

ORT Cameraman Disappears in Belarus

Three years after Belarussian authorities arrested him for illegally crossing the border with Lithuania, ORT cameraman Dmitry Zavadsky was reported missing this weekend in Minsk.

Pavel Sheremet, head of special projects at ORT and the station's former Minsk correspondent, said Zavadsky was supposed to meet him at the airport Friday but did not show up. Zavadsky's car was found at the airport, Interfax reported.

The agency quoted Minsk officials as saying a criminal investigation had been opened.

Sheremet and Zavadsky were arrested in July 1997 when they were working on a story about customs violations on the border between Belarus and Lithuania. The two spent three months in jail and received suspended sentences.

In a statement issued Monday, ORT director Konstantin Ernst said he was not convinced Belarussian authorities were taking all possible measures to find Zavadsky and called on Belarussian President Alexander Lukashenko to intensify the search.

"We would not like to think that the mysterious, traceless disappearance of an ORT journalist is a continuation of the actions directed toward blocking the free activity of representatives of Russian media in Belarus," Ernst said.

"We also do not have any basis to put the incident in the same category as the recent mysterious disappearances of a few visible politicians and businessmen of Belarus, although the Russian and foreign press is making such suppositions."

Sheremet told The Associated Press that Lukashenko was directly to blame.

Vladimir Zametalin, deputy chief of Lukashenko's staff, accused Sheremet of setting the whole thing up.

The disappearance "can be explained by the desire of ORT employee Pavel Sheremet to remind the republic [Belarus] of his existence, to organize around his name another panic and on this wave to try to run for a seat in parliament in the elections scheduled for this fall," Interfax quoted him as saying.

Ernst called Zametalin's accusation "deeply insulting."

Neither Sheremet nor Zavadsky had worked in Belarus recently. Their most recent project together, a documentary about Chechnya, was due to be aired Monday.

ORT spokesman Grigory Simanovich said Sheremet's trip to Minsk on Friday was not work-related.

Zmitser Bandarenka, leader of the Belarussian opposition group Charter '97, said that in contrast to the disappearances of opposition politicians Yury Zakharenko and Viktor Gonchar last year, it was hard to see who would benefit from Zavadsky's disappearance.

But, he added, "Lukashenko himself has done things that can't be explained with common sense."