Soviet official clears army in probe of Lithuanian assault Prosecutor's report clears troops in January seizure of broadcast center that killed 14.

June 04, 1991|By Chicago Tribune

MOSCOW -- The nation's chief prosecutor absolved the Soviet army of all wrongdoing in January's bloody assault on a broadcast center in Lithuania that claimed 14 lives and earned Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev the world's condemnation.

Hours after the prosecutor's report was released yesterday, Soviet troops conducted identity checks outside key buildings in the Lithuanian capital of Vilnius, local officials told Western reporters in telephone interviews.

Several thousand residents entered the square in front of the Parliament building last night after Lithuania's President Vytautas Landsbergis went on television to appeal for their support. Landsbergis warned that the soldiers might attack government buildings and seize railway stations and the city's main airport.

The soldiers checked identity papers and arrested three people working for the pro-independence civilian defense force. They later released two of them, officials said.

The troops began pulling back about 1 a.m. Tuesday and the situation had "calmed down," said another spokesman, Darius Silas.

In his report on last January's violence, Procurator General Nikolai Trubin adhered to the Kremlin's earlier attribution of blame solely to Lithuanian nationalists who attacked troops assigned to maintain order in the rebel republic.

Trubin said that while soldiers had been issued live ammunition, forensics experts determined they did not shoot and kill any civilians, or deliberately crush activists under tanks.

The report wholly contradicts accounts by Western correspondents who rushed to the broadcast center in Vilnius as shooting started early on Jan. 13.

The Lithuanian parliament decried the procurator's finding as "disinformation" and a "whitewash" in advance of Gorbachev's trip this week to Oslo, Norway, to deliver his Nobel Peace Prize address.

In Washington, the State Department challenged the prosecutor's report as inaccurate and said there was ample evidence that Soviet troops were responsible for the deaths.

Gorbachev was named the Nobel Peace laureate for political reforms in 1990, but the violent suppression of Baltic independence early this year has done as much as the nation's economic collapse to tarnish his image.

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