BIELSK PODLASKI, Poland/BRUZGI (Reuters) - Poland accused Belarus on Friday of trucking hundreds of migrants back to the border and pushing them to attempt to cross illegally, only hours after clearing camps at a frontier that has become the focus of an escalating East-West crisis.
The accusation by Poland suggests the crisis has not been resolved by an apparent change of tack by Minsk, which on Thursday had cleared the main camps by the border and allowed the first repatriation flight to Iraq in months.
European governments accuse Belarus of flying in thousands of people from the Middle East and pushing them to attempt illegally to cross the EU border, where several people have died in the freezing woods. Belarus denies fomenting the crisis.
Polish Border Guard spokesperson Anna Michalska said that by Thursday evening, just hours after clearing the camps, Belarus authorities were already trucking hundreds back and forcing them to try to cross in darkness.
“(The Belarusians) were bringing more migrants to the place where there was a forced attempt to cross,” Michalska said. “At the beginning there were 100 people, but then the Belarusian side brought more people in trucks. Then there were 500 people.”
When the migrants tried to cross the border, Belarusian troops blinded Polish guards with lasers, she told a news conference. Some migrants had thrown logs and four guards sustained minor injuries.
On Friday, Russian President Vladimir Putin and Lukashenko held another phone call about the crisis and stressed the importance of cooperation between Minsk and the EU, the Kremlin said.
Those efforts are yet to achieve a resolution, however.
On Thursday, the European Commission and Germany rejected a proposal by Minsk, under which the EU would take in 2,000 migrants and refugees now in Belarus, and 5,000 others would be sent back to their home countries.
Since the beginning of the year, Poland’s border guard service says it has recorded more than 34,000 attempted crossings from Belarus, including more than 6,000 so far in November, nearly 17,300 in October, close to 7,700 in September and more than 3,500 in August, when the crisis started.
While there has been a decline over the last month, Michalska told AFP the “latest attempts have become more aggressive”.