Sweden to send diplomat to Belarus after teddy bear row

Sweden is set to send its first diplomat to Belarus since the August expulsion of its ambassador to Minsk following a controversial pro-democracy stunt, the Nordic country's foreign minister said Tuesday.

"After some difficulties, we will soon send a charge (d'affaires) back to run our embassy in Minsk in Belarus. Good for everyone," Carl Bildt wrote on his Twitter account.

Belarus expelled Stockholm's ambassador and ordered out all its diplomats after a Swedish public relations firm claimed to have conducted a protest in August with an air-drop of teddy bears carrying messages on human rights.

Belarus strongman leader Alexander Lukashenko fired his foreign minister as part of a sweeping reshuffle that followed the diplomatic crisis, but the countries never severed diplomatic ties.

Sweden's ambassador, Stefan Eriksson, has since downplayed the importance of the stunt, pointing instead to Sweden's development aid targeting democracy projects and his own meetings with opposition groups.

"We don't believe in isolation," Development Aid Minister Gunilla Carlsson said at a meeting with journalists on Tuesday.

A spokesman for Bildt said Sweden had been notified by email that Belarusian authorities were open to receiving a diplomat, and that a recruitment process for the position had begun.

Belarus had been on a course to improve relations with European powers as it headed into a 2010 presidential election that Lukashenko was certain to win.

But election-night violence and the arrest of hundreds of protesters halted the brief diplomatic thaw and left Belarus without billions of dollars in aid.

Belarus authorities responded by cracking down on human rights organisations even more strongly and pulling some of its envoys from European countries in protests over their repeated expressions of concern.