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Investigators Report Existence Of 'Death Squad'

(Washington, DC -- July 16, 2001) Two former Belarusian police investigators, Dmitry Petrushkevich and Oleg Sluchek, told a recent RFE/RL briefing in Washington that they had uncovered what they said is convincing evidence that Belarusian leader Alyaksandr Lukashenka or at least people close to him have set up a death squad and used it against both private businessmen and political opponents.

Because of their findings, they were forced to flee their homeland and seek asylum in the United States.

Petrushkevich and Sluchek said that the death squad, set up in 1997, consists of as many as ten people including current and past members of an elite anti-terrorist unit. They added that the group acts under direct orders from Prosecutor General Viktor Sheiman, the former head of the Belarusian National Security Council and one of Lukashenka's closest associates.

According to two investigators, the death squad has been responsible for more than 30 assassinations and disappearances, including those of Major General Yuri Zakharenko, the former interior minister who went over to the opposition; Viktor Gonchar, the deputy head of the last legitimate parliament in Belarus; and Dmitry Zavadsky, a cameraman for the Russian public television station ORT.

The activities of this death squad might never have come to light, the two former investigators said, had it not been for the involvement of several of its members in the apparently non-political murder of an ethnic Azerbaijani family in Minsk in March 2000. They were assigned to investigate this "normal" murder, and their work on that crime led them to evidence of the existence of this group and its direct ties to Lukashenka's closest associates.