Poland summons Belarus diplomat over shots fired at border

International

FILE – In this Thursday, Aug. 19, 2021 file photo, migrants are seated, after crossing the border from Belarus into Poland in the village of Usnarz Gorny, Poland. Poland’s government is sending text messages to mobile phones in the area of its border with Belarus warning migrants against crossing illegally into the European Union member country, saying it would lead to imprisonment. (AP Photo/Mateusz Wodzinski, File)

WARSAW, Poland (AP) — Poland’s Foreign Ministry summoned the top Belarusian diplomat in the country on Friday after Polish authorities alleged that Belarusian forces had fired shots —possibly blank ammunition — at Polish troops along their common border.

The incident marks an escalation of tensions along the border between Belarus and Poland, which is also part of the European Union’s eastern border. The Polish government accuses Belarus of encouraging people from the Middle East and Africa to migrate in large numbers into the EU by entering Poland.

Polish forces have responded in many cases by pushing migrants back across the border into Belarus. Some asylum-seekers also have died while caught between the two countries.

Anna Michalska, a spokesperson for Poland’s Border Guards, said Belarusian forces fired shots at Poland’s troops across the European Union’s eastern border Thursday. She didn’t specify the forces.

Michalska said no one was hurt and that most probably blank ammunition was used. She said the guards were under increasing pressure and stress due to a growing number of incidents involving objects being thrown at Poland’s service members from the Belarus side.

The area along the border is restricted as part of a state of emergency that Poland imposed in early September, and neither journalists nor human rights workers can monitor the situation there. It was impossible to independently verify the Polish authorities’ claims.

Polish state news agency PAP reported that Belarus’ charge d’affaires was summoned over the matter, citing Foreign Ministry spokesman, Lukasz Jasina.

PAP also reported that the Belarusian charge d’affaires, Alaksandr Czasnouski, told journalists as he left the meeting that “the information about the shots is untrue.”

In Belarus, State Border Guard Committee spokesperson Anton Bychkovsky rejected the claim of shots fired, saying that the Belarusian border guards hadn’t used weapons over the last 24 hours, according to the Russian state news agency Tass.

Bychkovsky said the committee has officially asked Polish authorities to specify their claim, Tass said.

EU members Poland, Lithuania and Latvia have fortified their borders in response to unauthorized migration from Belarus. They allege the Moscow-backed Belarusian government is organizing and encouraging people to enter EU territory as an element of “hybrid war” in retaliation for Western sanctions on the authoritarian government in Minsk.

Meanwhile, tensions are also growing in Poland, where some Poles accuse the government of inhumane treatment of the migrants. During a Friday protest, activists threw red paint symbolizing blood on the parliament grounds in Warsaw.

The action was “a gesture of solidarity with refugees dying on the border,” activist Marcin Mycielski said.

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