Lithuanian diplomat and secret service officer dies in mysterious circumstances in Belarus

Vice-Councillor of the Lithuanian General Consulate in Grodno, Belarus, Lithuania's State Security Directorate (VSD) officer, Vytautas Pociunas (48), was found dead in Brest, Belarus, where he was on a working trip, news agency BNS reports, referring to the Lithuanian Foreign Ministry. The diplomat's body was found near Intourist Hotel at 8:30 a.m. yesterday by workers from a nearby construction site, Belarus newspaper Telegraf writes.

Ramunas Macius, a spokesman for the Lithuanian foreign ministry, confirmed the diplomat's death to BelaPAN news agency. According to him, Pociunas had arrived at Brest on a working visit and was staying at the Intourist Hotel. The circumstances of his death were not clear, so an investigation was being conducted, Macius told Deutsche Presse-Agentur dpa. Lithuanian foreign minister is monitoring developments, ministry personnel confirmed the press.

Initial comments from the Belarusian authorities suggested that Pociunas, who was staying in a room on the ninth floor of the Brest Intourist hotel during his visit, had fallen from his window. "The preliminary results of an investigation carried out by the Brest regional prosecutor showed that there were no grounds for suspecting that the death was caused by violence," the Belarusian prosecutor's office said on Wednesday, according to ?.

However, speculation had already begun in Lithuania that veteran security officer Pociunas, whose job included data protection at the Grodno consulate, could have been the victim of a political murder, Baltic News Service BNS reported. Pociunas was a security advisor at the Lithuanian consulate in the city of Grodno, as a security officer at the consulate, he was responsible for the mission's security and immunity.

"There is some worrying information, but I believe that if Belarus' law-enforcement agencies, our experts and diplomats work together we will find the truth and give all the answers," Lithuanian Prime Minister Gediminas Kirkilas told the Ziniu Radijas news radio programme today.

Belarusian officials were cooperating with Lithuanian investigators and "concealing nothing," he added. Kirkilas' office would not comment on the nature of the "worrying" information.

Daily Lietuvos Rytas writes that Foreign Minister Petras Vaitiekunas who knew Pociunas from their common work in Belarus, also did not comment the event, as any interpretations "at this stage may harm interests of Lithuania". This is the first tragic death case of a Lithuanian diplomat since restoration of the country' s independence, the paper notes.

In opinion of the deputy of the European Parliament Vytautas Landsbergis, death of Pociunas was violent. In opinion of the deputy, it "is a political murder " and Vilnius is obliged to lead its own investigation of the event: "We should not leave its to Belarus militia or the KGB, on the contrary, we are obliged to lead all investigation of a possible political murder. This is an affair of the state."

Pociunas was born in 1957 in Vilnius, graduated from the faculty of physics of the Vilnius university. Before his work in Grodno he had worked for 14 years in Lithuania's State Security Directorate and had a rank of the state adviser. According to the newspaper Kommersant, in the VSD Pociunas supervised the 3rd department. In June, 2004 President of Lithuania Valdas Adamkus awarded him with the Knightly Cross of Vytis. This was a high evaluation of Pociunas efforts in the investigation of activity and contacts of the ex-President of the country Rolandas Paksas and the sponsor of his pre-election campaign, Yury Borisov. Pociunas also was a member of the state commission on reception and delivery in operation of storehouse of the fulfilled nuclear fuel at the Ignalina atomic power plant.