Belarus: Ignazio Cassis meets President Lukashenka and Foreign Minister Makej at Swiss embassy opening
Bern, 13.02.2020 - On 13 February 2020, Federal Councillor Ignazio Cassis, the head of the Federal Department of Foreign Affairs, held bilateral talks with President Aljaksandr Lukashenka and Foreign Minister Uladzimir Makej. This first official visit of a federal councillor to Belarus focused on stepping up bilateral relations, strengthening human rights, and the situation in the region, in particular the conflict in eastern Ukraine. The new Swiss embassy in Minsk, which was officially opened by Mr Cassis, is testament to the deepening of cooperation between the two countries.
"The opening of this embassy demonstrates the growing importance of our relations and acknowledges the role of Belarus in the region", said Federal Councillor Ignazio Cassis at the ceremony in the embassy. Belarusian Foreign Minister Uladzimir Makej was also present at the event, as was a delegation from the Swiss-Belarus parliamentary friendship group, comprising National Council Vice President Andreas Aebi (co-chair of the group) and fellow co-chairs Margret Kiener-Nellen, former member of the National Council, and Filippo Lombardi, former member of the Council of States. From 2010 to 2019, the Swiss diplomatic representation in Belarus consisted of a representation office. In May 2019, the Federal Council decided to upgrade the representation office to an embassy in order to further develop relations with Belarus and to better represent Swiss interests in the country.
Prior to the official opening ceremony at the embassy, Mr Cassis held bilateral talks with President Aljaksandr Lukashenka and Foreign Minister Uladzimir Makej.
Mr Cassis welcomed the steps taken by both sides in recent years which have led to a deepening of bilateral relations. He also underscored the role of mediator which Belarus is increasingly assuming in the region: as the venue for the negotiations on the implementation of the Minsk peace accords, Belarus is a strong advocate of de-escalation and a peaceful resolution of the conflict in eastern Ukraine. The Minsk negotiations provide a platform that brings all sides to the table. Switzerland is closely involved in this process through Ambassador Heidi Grau, the Special Representative of the OSCE Chairperson-in-Office in Ukraine and in the Trilateral Contact Group, and Ambassador Toni Frisch, the coordinator of the Working Group on Humanitarian Issues within the Trilateral Contact Group. Switzerland and Belarus will continue discussions on good offices, said Cassis.
In addition to the expansion of bilateral trade relations, the opening of Belarus to the West and planned cooperation on emergency aid to third countries, human rights and the rule of law were also discussed. Mr Cassis said that Switzerland welcomed the close cooperation with Belarus on human rights and was keen to pursue it further. During his meeting with President Lukashenka, he underscored "It is important to make concrete progress in this respect." He referred in particular to working together on the prevention of torture: fruitful discussions among experts on this topic from the two countries took place in Bern and Geneva in the autumn of 2019. Switzerland is keen to pursue these discussions, said Cassis. The head of the FDFA was also able to meet briefly in Minsk with representatives of the civil society and NGOs committed in the defense of human rights in Belarus.
The opening of the embassy in Minsk should also give a further boost to bilateral economic relations. In 2016, in agreement with the EU, Switzerland had largely lifted its sanctions against Belarus. This gave fresh impetus to Swiss-Belarusian cooperation. In 2019 the volume of trade between the two countries amounted to CHF 194 million – an increase of over 50% on the previous year.
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