Poles deny any military threat at EU border with Belarus

Poland’s president has denied there is a “military threat” at the European Union’s border with Belarus, where thousands of migrants watched over by Belarusian forces are pressing to reach the bloc’s soil – and where Poland has deployed troops in rear areas.

olish president Andrzej Duda said his country was primarily using civilian police and border guards to meet its obligation to protect the EU’s eastern border from the pressure of “illegal migration”.

The presence of the Polish military there is chiefly a backup, he said. A Polish government official earlier said migrants who camped on the Belarusian side were being taken away by bus, suggesting the tense standoff could be easing.

Poland’s border guard posted a video on Twitter, showing migrants with bags and backpacks being directed away from the border by Belarus forces.

Maciej Wasik, a Polish deputy interior minister, said he had received information that migrants were boarding buses provided by Belarus and leaving the area.

However, a border guard spokeswoman said some of the migrants were seen taking wooden logs with them, raising questions about whether they might be moved to another spot along the frontier.

A large group of people from the Middle East has been stuck by a border crossing with Poland since November 8, waiting and hoping to enter Europe. Most are fleeing conflict at home, and aim to reach Germany or other western European countries.

The EU has accused Belarus president Alexander Lukashenko of using the migrants as pawns to destabilize the 27-nation bloc in retaliation for its sanctions on his authoritarian regime.

Belarus denies orchestrating the crisis.

Mr Duda stressed that Poland will not accept any international decisions regarding solutions for the border standoff that are taken without Poland’s participation.

He was referring to recent talks between Germany’s departing Chancellor Angela Merkel and Alexander Lukashenko of Belarus.

German government spokesman Steffen Seibert pointed to the plight of the migrants brought to the border by Belarus and stranded there.

In order to improve the humanitarian situation, he said, “it makes sense to also talk to those who have the opportunity to change this situation in Minsk, even when it comes to a ruler whose legitimacy, like all other European member states, Germany does not recognise.”

Seibert said United Nations aid was beginning to reach migrants on the border, and it was important to ensure humanitarian agencies gain permanent access.

Tensions spiked on Tuesday when Polish forces at the border used water cannon and tear gas against stone-throwing migrants. Warsaw accused the Lukashenko regime of giving smoke grenades and other weapons to those trying to cross the frontier.

Yesterday the Polish authorities said the situation had calmed, and while there were 161 attempts to illegally cross the border, the large migrant camp by the Kuznica crossing – which is now closed – had fewer people.

“The camp site near Kuznica is slowly emptying,” the Polish deputy interior minister said.

Information provided by officials is hard to verify, due to restrictions journalists face on both sides of the border. A state of emergency in Poland is keeping journalists, human rights workers and others away from the border along a zone that is 3km deep.

A spokesman for the German interior ministry denied rumours that Berlin was planning to pick up the migrants and take them to Germany. They said the current developments show that the “road to Belarus is a dead end for most people who want to go to Germany. There are no plans to approve taking people in.”

Estonia, also affected by migrant movement but to a much lesser degree, said it would build a temporary razor wire barrier of up to 40km on its eastern border with Russia as a temporary solution.

This northernmost of the three Baltic states, with a population of 1.3 million, shares a 294km land border with Russia and a 340km border with Latvia, but does not border Belarus at all. 

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