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Aid worker says girl who sparked international feud worried about sanctions

After nearly four months of stubborn resistance, a Belarusian teenager who sparked an international dispute when she refused to leave her Petaluma host family at the end of a six-week summer visit has gone home, officials said Monday.

Tanya Kazyra, a 16-year-old from the town of Borisov, near Minsk, boarded a plane Saturday at San Francisco International Airport and returned to her grandmother -- and throngs of Russian-language reporters -- on Sunday, said Ruth Williams, a director with the Chernobyl Children's Project of Marin and Sonoma counties.

Despite Kazyra's early insistence that she be allowed to stay with the family of Manuel and Debra Zapata, whom she had been visiting for nine summers, Kazyra missed her 61-year-old grandmother and was concerned about sanctions imposed on trips by other children because of her actions, Williams said.

UPDATED: Belarus Teen

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"I think she's a teenager," Williams said. "What seemed like a good idea in August didn't seem like a good idea a few months later. She didn't quite realize what it meant to stay."

Belarusian embassy officials in Washington confirmed Kazyra had gone home at her own request. Oleg Kravchenko, charge de affairs, said she would not face prosecution in the former Soviet state and could return if she wished.

It was unclear if Kazyra's compliance would prompt Belarus to lift a ban on so-called respite trips to the United States for children living in the path of the 1986 nuclear disaster in nearby Ukraine.

The government has urged a treaty with the United States to ensure its children return. Also, it said any future trips would be limited to children 13 and under who could travel to the United States no more than three times each.

It was unknown if trips would resume by summer.

"About half of our children would not be allowed to return," said Cecelia Calhoun, Belarus liaison for the Children of Chernobyl U.S. Alliance, the umbrella group for numerous affiliated programs nationwide.

Manuel and Debra Zapata, who encouraged Kazyra to stay, drawing criticism from host families nationwide, did not return calls Monday seeking comment.


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