BRUSSELS, July 22 (UPI) -- Belarus needs to show it's serious about political and human rights reform before it works on courting the European Union, Human Rights Watch said.
Belarusian Foreign Minister Vladimir Makey meets Monday with delegates to the European Union. It's the first such visit since President Alexander Lukashenko launched a crackdown on his opponents following presidential elections in 2010.
The Council of the European Union in June suspended a travel ban on Makey "to facilitate diplomatic contacts" between the EU and Minsk. The EU said "critical engagement" with Belarus would pressure the government to do more in terms of democracy.
Rachel Denber, a deputy research director at Human Rights Watch, said Minsk has started to shift its attitude toward the EU.
"President Lukashenko pretended for two years that relations with the EU didn't really matter to him, but he has suddenly changed course," she said in a statement Monday."If Lukashenko really wants better ties, the government should free all political prisoners and stop harassing the political opposition and civic activists."
Belarus had parliamentary elections in October though European monitors said there was a general lack of political freedom in the country. Lukashenko's government in January released thousands of political prisoners from custody as part of a general amnesty program, though rights group said many of them were tortured behind bars.