By MONIKA SCISLOWSKA
WARSAW, Poland (AP) — A Polish government official said Wednesday that migrants who have spent days in a makeshift camp on the Belarusian side of Poland’s eastern border were being taken away by bus by Belarusian officials, offering the prospect of a possible de-escalation in a tense standoff.
Maciej Wasik, a Polish deputy interior minister, said he had received information that migrants were boarding buses provided by Belarus and leaving the area.
Poland’s Border Guard posted on Twitter a video showing migrants with bags and backpacks being directed by Belarus forces away from the border.
However, Border Guard spokeswoman, Anna Michalska said some of the migrants were seen taking wooden logs with them, raising questions about whether they might be moved to another spot along the frontier.
A large group of people from the Middle East has been stuck by a border crossing with Poland since Nov. 8, waiting and hoping to enter Europe. Most are fleeing conflict or despair at home and aim to reach Germany or other western European countries.
Tensions spiked on Tuesday when Polish forces at the border used water cannon and tear gas against stone-throwing migrants. Warsaw accused the regime of Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko of giving smoke grenades and other weapons to those trying to cross the frontier.
But on Wednesday Polish authorities said the situation had calmed down, and while they registered 161 attempts to cross Poland’s border illegally, the large migrant camp by the Kuznica crossing — which is now closed — had fewer people.
“The camp site near Kuznica is slowly emptying,” Wasik, the Polish deputy interior minister, said.
It was not clear where they were being taken, and the information provided by officials is hard to verify due to restrictions journalists face in working on both sides of the border. A state of emergency in Poland is keeping journalists, human rights workers and others away from the border along a zone that is 3 kilometers (2 miles) deep.
Iraq has been appealing for its citizens to fly home, telling them the way into the EU is closed. The first flights are scheduled for Thursday.
The Belarusian state news agency Belta reported that migrants were being given shelter inside a logistics center at the border, giving them the chance after many days to sleep indoors rather than in tents outdoors.
The West has accused President Alexander Lukashenko of using the migrants as pawns to destabilize the 27-nation bloc in retaliation for its sanctions on his authoritarian regime. Belarus denies orchestrating the crisis.
Meanwhile, a Polish press organization said that people in Polish army uniforms handcuffed and beat three photojournalists who were working on Polish territory, but outside the no-entry emergency zone, on Tuesday.
Press Club Polska posted photos of bruises that the handcuffs left on the wrists of two of the photojournalists.
Poland’s Defense Ministry denied that violence was used but said the troops have a right to intervene when they deem it necessary at a time of high tension in the area. It said the photojournalists were masked and had no signs indicating they were media representatives.
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