Poland sends troops to Belarus border as migrant numbers surge

WARSAW (Reuters) - Poland has sent more than 900 troops to help secure its border with Belarus, its defence minister said on Wednesday, after a surge in illegal border crossings.

Poland and Lithuania, which are members of the European Union, have reported a sharp increase in the number of migrants from countries such as Afghanistan and Iraq trying to enter their countries from Belarus this year.

The EU has accused Minsk of using the migrants as a tool to put pressure on the bloc over sanctions it has imposed on Belarus, a charge that Minsk has denied, and Lithuania wants tougher EU rules approved on migration.

"The Polish Army is supporting the Border Guard in protecting the border with Belarus... More than 900 troops are involved in this operation," Polish Defence Minister Mariusz Blaszczak wrote on Twitter.

In an emailed statement, the Polish interior ministry put the number of troops involved in the operation at around 1,000. It said more soldiers and police officers could be sent if necessary.

The ministry said 2,100 people had attempted to cross the Polish-Belarusian border illegally this month, including 138 in the past 24 hours. Of these, 1,342 had been prevented from crossing and 758 had been detained.

The Border Guard had previously said it detained 122 illegal migrants along the frontier throughout 2020.

The government said on Tuesday it had adopted a draft law to accelerate the process of deporting illegal migrants.

Private broadcaster TVN24 said about 50 migrants stuck between Belarusian and Polish border guards had set up a makeshift camp on the border.

(Reporting by Alicja Ptak, Anna Koper, Pawel Florkiewicz and Anna Wlodarczak-Semczuk, writing by Alan Charlish, editing by Timothy Heritage)