Yeltsin, other leaders seek talks on Baltic states Russian troops urged to reject orders

January 14, 1991|By Scott Shane | Scott Shane,Moscow Bureau of The Sun

MOSCOW -- Russian leader Boris N. Yeltsin, flying to Tallinn yesterday in a dramatic defense of Baltic independence bids against Soviet troops, joined the leaders of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania in asking the United Nations to call an emergency international conference on the future of the Baltic republics.

Their appeal proposed that the U.N.-approved Jan. 15 deadline for Iraq to pull its troops out of Kuwait be extended, permitting the Baltic conference to take place in the interim.

The four presidents also jointly condemned the Soviet army's violent assault on Lithuanian broadcast facilities early yesterday morning in which Lithuanian officials say 14 people died and 144 were injured. They asked all countries "to resolutely denounce acts of armed violence against the independence of the Baltic states and their peaceful population."

The two joint statements were signed by Mr. Yeltsin and Estonian President Arnold Ruutel in Tallinn and approved by Latvian President Anatolijs Gorbunovs and Lithuanian President Vytautas Landsbergis in telephone calls.

Mr. Yeltsin, in a clear challenge to Soviet President Mikhail S. Gorbachev, appealed separately to Russian troops serving in the Baltic republics to reject orders to use force against civilians. He said such orders are illegal and unconstitutional.

"By carrying out orders to storm civilian installations and use arms against a civilian population, you become a weapon in the hands of the dark forces of reaction," he said.

Mr. Yeltsin's intervention came as Lithuanian officials asked tens of thousands of people holding a vigil outside the republican parliament to go home, saying military commanders had pledged to take no further action overnight.

Most of the demonstrators agreed to leave, obeying a 10 p.m.-to-6 a.m. curfew clamped on the city by the military commandant. Mr. Landsbergis, in asking people to leave, said legislators would hold a session today "if the parliament is not occupied" by troops.

The truce with the military was achieved by a delegation led by the presidents of Armenia and Byelorussia. According to Lithuanian officials, Levon Ter-Petrosyan of Armenia and Nikolai Dementi of Byelorussia watched graphic videotapes of the bloodshed before holding tense negotiations with the military officials.

A huge rally in the Latvian capital of Riga continued last night as the republic's leaders said they feared that the military might move on key buildings there before dawn.

The surprise assault on demonstrators, described by witnesses as nearly all unarmed and peaceful, was condemned by dozens of protest rallies across the Soviet Union and by governments around the world.

Several thousand demonstrators chanting "Hands Off Lithuania," "Today Lithuania, Tomorrow Moscow," and "Butchers Out of the Kremlin" rallied outside Red Square and marched through Moscow, as word spread of the tragedy despite a near-blackout on accurate information in the news media in the first hours after the events.

A group of deputies to the Russian parliament demanded an emergency session to call on Russian soldiers in the Soviet army to refuse orders to use force against civilians. They also said that if the troops were not pulled out, the parliament should take up the question of the Russian Federation's secession from the Soviet Union, which would mean the destruction of the union.

The attack in Vilnius threatened to destroy the dramatic improvement in Soviet relations with the West achieved over the past several years. For many Soviet reformers, it confirmed their fears that the country is sliding into dictatorship.

The role in the violence of President Mikhail S. Gorbachev -- who only hours before the tanks moved had assured representatives of the 15 republics that force would not be used -- remained a mystery. He made no public statements, and Lithuanian officials who called him repeatedly during the day were told he was "resting" and unavailable.

Soviet reformist politicians were divided on whether Mr. Gorbachev was acting deliberately and cynically to crush the Baltic independence movements or was himself the victim of right-wing forces he could no longer control.

"Either he deceived us all or he's already a marionette in the hands of the reactionaries," said Janis Peters, Latvia's envoy in Moscow.

Sergei B. Stankevich, Moscow's deputy mayor, denounced the violence as a "crime" and said that Mr. Gorbachev "is obligated to explain himself." He also said that "no person with a conscience and no civilized state will recognize any puppet government that may now be set up in Lithuania, replacing its elected government."

Defense Minister Dmitry T. Yazov's role in the assault was also uncertain. Mr. Landsbergis spoke with Marshal Yazov by telephone and said he denied giving the order to shoot and seemed unaware of details of the night's events.

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