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Ex-police says he helped kill Belarus leader's critics

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Minsk (AFP)

A man who claims to have served in an elite Belarusian police unit says he helped murder key opposition figures 20 years ago, leading to calls Tuesday for President Alexander Lukashenko to be investigated.

Yury Garavsky gave sensational testimony to German broadcaster Deutsche Welle about his part in the 1999 killings of three of Lukashenko's political opponents, including a former interior minister.

At the time, he said, he was working for the interior ministry's SOBR special forces team.

In an interview published Monday, Garavsky said he was personally present during the executions of former interior minister Yury Zakharenko, Viktor Gonchar and Anatoly Krasovsky.

Zakharenko vanished in May 1999. Then in September, former lawmaker Gonchar and his friend, businessman Krasovsky were abducted.

Garavsky, who has fled Belarus to seek asylum abroad, identified his superior, SOBR chief Dmitry Pavlichenko, as the man who shot the victims in the chest. Pavlichenko has dismissed the accusations.

The revelations have caused a sensation in the independent media and social networks in Belarus, which has been ruled by Lukashenko since 1994.

The Belarusian Investigative Committee told AFP it was "in process of clarifying" the report.

Pavlichenko, responding to the accusations in an interview with the Tut.by website, said Garavsky had never worked for SOBR, "didn't have much intellect" and was in prison in 1999.

Garavsky says he has documents proving his employment.

- 'Great chance' for European justice -

Lukashenko's critics say the revelations are a chance to prosecute the man who has been called by his critics in the West "the last dictator in Europe".

"European justice has a great chance to begin an independent investigation of political disappearances in Belarus," Andrei Sannikov told the Charter97 opposition website.

Opposition leader Sannikov ran against Lukashenko for president in 2010 and has spent several years in prison.

As well as the three men named by Garavsky, a fourth victim, journalist Dmitry Zavadsky, disappeared in 2000.

Garavsky said he was not working on the day of his abduction, but he gave a detailed account of what he said had happened to the other three.

The investigation into their disappearances was closed this year after 20 years.

In its report, Deutsche Welle said Garavsky had left Belarus in 2018, was living in another European country and seeking political asylum.

He told them could describe where the three murders took place and provided them with schematics of who was involved and the chain of command.

"Their bodies have probably decomposed, but the bones should be there," Garavsky said. But the actual orders to abduct the politicians were not written documents, he added.

"There was never anything written or any video confirmation. Everything was ordered verbally -- I guess based on the wishes of President Lukashenko."

"I feel repentant and guilty," he told the broadcaster. "I feel that if these people remained alive, things would be different in Belarus."

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