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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.

"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.

Lito Zapata, their 21-year-old son who is a Marine lance corporal stationed at Camp Pendleton, said the family was heartbroken over Kazyra's decision to leave.

"Our family was pretty much blindsided," Zapata said. "After being told one thing for so long and loving her like a daughter and family member . . . then all of a sudden, she does this."

Kazyra, who had been visiting Petaluma since she was 8, shocked organizers when she failed to show up at the airport Aug. 5. That's when she was to return with her group of 24 other Belarusian children aged 7 to 17 and two adult chaperones who had visited the North Coast for part of the summer.

Instead of taking Kazyra to the airport as scheduled, her host family hired a lawyer and announced she would stay with them indefinitely.

The teen explained in interviews with The Press Democrat that she had grown attached to the Zapatas, whom she called her real family. Back home, she had to contend with an abusive father and his drug-addicted friends, she said.

"I love this family," she said in an early August interview at the Zapatas' house.

But the Belarusian government insisted Kazyra return. Initially, it said Kazyra was kidnapped.

In August and September, Belarus dispatched envoys to Petaluma to plead with the teen to come home. They were all rebuffed by Kazyra, who said her tourist visa was good until Dec. 25 and she had permission from her grandmother to remain in the country.

However, it didn't end there. The situation was being watched closely by host families nationwide who bring in as many as 1,400 Belarusian children a year.

At a national convention of host families in Raleigh, N.C., in October, Williams made a presentation about Kazyra to people concerned she had jeopardized the program.

Williams then went to Washington, where she talked to members of Congress, officials at the State Department and Belarusian embassy officials.

Once back in Petaluma, she and other organizers met again the Zapata family, who maintained they could best provide for Kazyra.

But Kazyra had a change of heart about three weeks ago. Williams said they had a frank discussion with her using a Russian orthodox priest as an interpreter.

"She was just ready to go home," Williams said. "She was concerned about hurting anyone."

Russian news reported Kazyra may have been influenced by the pending departure of the Zapatas' son for military duty in Iraq. Also, the report said Kazyra felt neglected because the Zapatas' daughter was spending more time with a boyfriend.

Lito Zapata said Kazyra seemed to crave attention. When media reports died down and she settled in as a member of the family, she may have lost interest in remaining in Petaluma, he said.

"For six weeks during the summer she got extreme attention," he said. "When all that stuff went down this year she was more a part of the family like me and my sister and younger brother. It's obviously a lot less attention. That might have been hard for her."

The Belarusian news agency Belapan said Kazyra was glad to be back at her grandmother's small, wooden house on the outskirts of Barysaw. The agency said the two women live in one half of the house and Kazyra's father lives in the other half. The grandmother has worked almost all her life at a local cut-glass factory, the news agency said.

She said in the report she felt sorry that her sudden departure hurt her "American parents."

"I'll contact them by phone and talk to them, but I won't go there any more," she said in the report.

If she did want to return to Petaluma, Kazyra would have to wait until she turns 18 in December 2009, Williams said.

But that seems unlikely.

As the date of her return flight approached, Kazyra grew more and more eager to see her grandmother, Williams said.

She had missed school and was also anxious to get on with her studies. She is a senior, Williams said.

"She was very excited to go home," said Williams, whose husband, Brandon, was among a group of adults who took her to the airport. "She couldn't wait to get on the airplane."

You can reach Staff Writer Paul Payne at 762-7297 or paul.payne@pressdemocrat.com.

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