Petras Vaida, BC, Vilnius,
On 20 October in Minsk, Lithuanian Minister of Foreign Affairs Audronius Azubalis and Belarusian Foreign Minister Sergei Martynov signed a bilateral agreement on the procedure for the mutual travels of border area residents of the Republic of Lithuania and the Republic of Belarus. President of Lithuania Dalia Grybauskaite and President of Belarus Alexander Lukashenko attended the signing ceremony.
According to Minister A.Azubalis, Lithuania takes part in the first stage of Belarus turning towards Europe. Further steps of Lithuania and the European Union with regard to visa policy towards Belarus will depend on the particular preparation of Belarus to open up to Europe, informed BC Foreign Ministry of Lithuania.
"On the other hand, this is a big challenge not only to Belarus, but also to Lithuanian institutions. Before its ratification in the Seimas (Parliament), it is important for them to be ready to specifically implement the agreement and to ensure that it will not be abused," head of the Lithuanian diplomacy said.
After its ratification, the agreement will allow certain groups of border area residents to cross the border without visas and with special local border traffic permits. Holders of the permits will be able to stay on the territory of the other country (in the border area of 50 km) for 90 days half-yearly.
The local border traffic permits will be valid up to 5 years and will be issued to permanent residents of border areas, who plan to cross the external land border because of family relations, well-grounded economic, commercial, cultural or other important reasons. Holders of these permits will not have the right to work.
The entry into force of this agreement will not abolish the border and customs control, the border security level will not change. Lithuanian Ministry of Foreign Affairs has suggested that the Government assigns competent Lithuanian institutions to get prepared for the implementation of the agreement.
It is expected that the signing of this agreement will facilitate cross-border contacts of border area residents, will promote commercial, cultural and tourist exchanges, the cooperation between Lithuanian and Belarusian regions, and the rapprochement of Belarus with the EU.
The agreement between Lithuania and Belarus on local border traffic is based on the Regulation of the European Parliament and of the Council (dated 20 December 2006) laying down the rules on local border traffic at the external land borders of the member states. This regulation was drawn up with an aim to establish a regime specifically applicable to local border traffic, because following the EU's enlargement in 2004 there was a need to ensure that the rules on local border traffic at the external land borders of the member states would not hinder trade, social and cultural exchanges, and regional cooperation.
The Foreign Ministers of Lithuania and Belarus also discussed the EU's Eastern Partnership initiative and energy issues.
In Minsk, Minister A.Azubalis also met with representatives of the Belarusian civil society.