By Elitsa Vucheva
EUOBSERVER / BRUSSELS - The European Commission has expressed "dismay" over the recent arrests of youth activists in Belarus, saying that it is detrimental to the country's relations with the EU.
"We are dismayed at the reports of continued arrests of members of civil society for having asserted their civil and basic rights of expressing themselves", a spokesperson for the European Commission said on Thursday (6 September).
"The repetition of politically motivated arrests which we have observed over the recent months is not an encouraging sign for Belarus' willingness to re-engage fully with the European Union", Christiane Hohmann added.
Belarus police forces on Tuesday (4 September) detained some 15 activists of an opposition movement called Youth Front (Malady Front), who were protesting outside a courthouse in Salihorsk against the trial of one of their members - a 16-year-old boy.
Twelve of the arrested youth activists were to be released, but for three of them, no release date has been announced, Radio Free Europe reports.
Altogether, eight Youth Front campaigners have been found guilty of ties to an unregistered organization or "malicious hooliganism".
Meanwhile, Belarus offered more economic cooperation with the EU, notably in the energy field, at a conference on the European neighbourhood policy in Brussels on Monday (3 September).
"We are equally important for each other", Belarusian Deputy Foreign Minister Valery Voronetski said, adding that Brussels and Minsk needed to move to more advanced forms of economic cooperation.
The EU rejected the offer, however, saying that closer ties with the 27-member bloc required respect of democratic norms and values.
"A rapprochement with the EU requires that Belarus takes convincing steps towards democratization and respect for human rights, including the right of people to express their opinion, and the right of NGOs to exist", the EU spokesperson said.
Belarus was offered the ability to take part in the European neighbourhood policy (ENP) set up in 2003-2004, and initially welcomed the idea. Anti-democratic political developments and human rights breaches in the country have frozen the dossier, however.