Polish armed forces use water cannons against migrants who have thrown stones

WARSAW, Poland (dpa) – Polish border troops said they were attacked with stones by migrants on the border with Belarus on Tuesday and reacted against them with water cannons. Police said the migrants received gas grenades and other weapons from Belarusian armed forces, who directed the entire violent operation with a drone.

The situation marked an escalation of a tense migration and political crisis on the eastern border of the European Union and NATO, in which the lives of thousands of migrants appointed by Belarus as proxies are at stake.

The Polish Border Guard posted a video on Twitter showing a water cannon aimed across the border at a group of migrants in a makeshift camp in freezing weather.

Polish police said an officer was seriously injured when the migrants were throwing items and he was taken to hospital by ambulance because of a likely skull fracture.

Border Guard spokeswoman Anna Michalska said an estimated 2,000 migrants were at the border crossing, but only about 100 are believed to have been involved in attacks on Polish forces.

Police spokesman Mariusz Ciarka later said the migrants had been “pacified” at the border crossing in Kuźnica. He added that the attackers were equipped with gas and gas grenades by the Belarusian services, stones were pelted at the Polish police and the entire operation was controlled by the Belarusian services with a drone.

In response, the Belarus State Border Guard Committee announced that it would launch an investigation into the Polish use of force.

“These are considered violent actions against people who are on the territory of another country,” the spokesman for the committee Anton Bychkovsky was quoted by the Belarusian state news agency Belta.

The EU accuses the authoritarian regime of Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko of staging a migration crisis on the borders of three of its members – Poland, Lithuania and Latvia – in order to destabilize the entire bloc of 27 nations.

Some of the migrants are with children on the Polish-Belarusian border. Most of them are fleeing conflict, poverty or hopelessness in Syria and Iraq and are hoping for Western Europe. So far, 11 deaths have been reported.

The Defense Ministry said Belarusian armed forces were trying to destroy fences along the countries’ common border, and the Interior Ministry released a video apparently showing migrants trying to tear down a fence. It is said that the migrants are using stun grenades or similar weapons given to them by Belarusian officers who are no longer trying to hide their involvement in violent incidents.

Poland has taken a tough stand, reinforced the border with riot police and troops, rolled out rolls of barbed wire and made plans to build a high steel fence. The Polish approach has largely met with approval from other EU countries interested in stopping another wave of migration.

However, the Polish authorities have also been criticized by human rights groups and others for pushing migrants back across the border and not allowing them to seek asylum.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov described the actions of the Polish armed forces on Tuesday as “absolutely unacceptable”. Lavrov accused the Polish armed forces of “violating all conceivable norms of international humanitarian law and other agreements of the international community”.

Polish officials have often said that, given Moscow’s alliance with Belarus, Russia bears some responsibility for the crisis on the border. The Russian government denies responsibility.

There was no way to independently verify what was happening at the border because the Polish state of emergency banned reporters and human rights activists from the border area. In Belarus, journalists are severely restricted in their reporting.

Sometime on Tuesday, a Polish independent broadcaster, TVN24, was forced to rely on CNN to show a picture of the border that wasn’t filtered by government agencies.

The Polish parliament is expected to examine a bill on Tuesday to regulate the freedom of movement of citizens in the area of ​​the border with Belarus after the state of emergency ends this month.

The EU has put pressure on airlines to stop transporting Syrians, Iraqis and others to Belarus – and the effort has brought about change.

According to a travel agency in Beirut, flights from the Lebanese capital to the Belarusian capital Minsk had been suspended until further notice. On Tuesday afternoon, the single evening flight of the Belarusian airline Belavia appeared on the Beirut International Airport website as “canceled”.

Meanwhile, the Iraqi government is calling on its citizens trapped on the Polish-Belarusian border to return home.

About 200 Iraqis who came to Belarus with the intention of entering the EU turned to the Iraqi embassy in Russia and expressed their desire to return home, an embassy spokesman for the Interfax agency said on Tuesday. The spokesman added that an evacuation flight from Minsk will take place on Thursday and the Belarusian authorities have helped bring migrants back from the border.

On social media platforms used by Syrians and Iraqis to navigate the route between Belarus and Europe, migrants posted pictures of large crowds that gathered at the borders overnight. Some were not deterred by the restrictions and said they received support in the form of warm clothing and boots for the cold and damp weather. Some embassies celebrated those who managed to cross the line despite the restrictions. Some embassies asked migrants to go to the Lithuanian-Belarusian border.

Some posts described harsh treatment, including beating, by Belarusian border guards, but most of the posts were in recognition of the fact that the migration route through Belarus may have come to an end.

“There is no longer any escape route. By God, the route from Minsk has come to an end. What are the new streets? ”One person posted on a social media platform used by migrants to inquire about entering Europe.


Litvinova reported from Moscow. Sarah El Deeb contributed from Beirut.

Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed in any way without permission.

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