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Former Belarusian Police Officer Says He Was Involved in Killing of Lukashenko Critics

FILE - Belarusian police officers clash with protesters during an opposition rally in Minsk, Belarus, Sept. 16, 2008, marking the ninth anniversary of the disappearance of Belarusian politician Viktor Gonchar and businessman Anatoly Krasovsky.

A former officer with a Belarusian police special unit said he participated in the murder of opposition activists and that he was now seeking political asylum in an unnamed European country.

The comments by Yury Harauski, made in an interview with Deutsche Welle published Dec. 16, added fuel to long-standing accusations that security forces overseen by President Alexander Lukashenko were involved in the disappearance of opposition leader Viktor Gonchar, businessman Anatoly Krasovsky, and two other men in 1999 and 2000.

Harauski told the publication that in the late 1990s he served in a division of Belarus’s Interior Ministry called the Special Rapid Response Unit (SOPR).

He said he participated in the May 7, 1999, kidnapping of former Interior Minister Yury Zakharenko in the Belarusian capital, Minsk. Zakharenko was driven to a military base outside the city and then shot, Harauski said, by his superior officer.

Harauski said he was also involved in the September 16, 1999, abduction of Gonchar, the former head of the country's Central Election Commission, and Krasovsky, a businessman who supported the country’s opposition.

The two men disappeared after visiting a sauna in Minsk.

Both, he said, were taken to a military base, executed, and their bodies buried in a forest in graves that had already been dug.

Gonchar was a former Lukashenka campaign official who later joined the opposition, while Krasovsky was critical of the Belarusian president.

Harauski specifically blamed Dzmitry Pavlichenko, a lieutenant colonel who was the head of the SOBR unit, as having both recruited him into the unit and of executing Zakharanka.

Relatives of the men have publicly said they believe they were abducted for political reasons and have accused government officials of complicity.

Deutsche Welle said that Harauski was now living in an unnamed "German-speaking" country in Europe and that he was seeking political asylum.

In comments to the Belarusian news portal, Pavlichenko called Harauski's comments nonsense, and he accused Harauski of having been kicked out of SOBR for criminal activity.

A report by a top official with the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe concluded in 2004 that senior Belarusian officials "may themselves be involved" in the disappearances of the men.