Austria's chancellor refuses apology to Lithuania

22nd July 2011, Comments 0 comments

Austrian Chancellor Werner Faymann refused on Friday to apologise to Lithuania in a diplomatic spat that began when Vienna released last week a Russian man wanted by Vilnius for 1991 war crimes.

"An independent Austrian authority took an independent decision," Faymann told Oe1 radio of the decision to free Mikhail Golovatov.

"We have nothing to hide. When our partner (Lithuania) sees how the decision was made, it will appreciate the situation," he went on.

Faymann acknowledged however the "emotions" that the 1991 events behind the arrest brought up in Lithuania.

Austria detained on July 14 at Vienna airport Golovatov, who is wanted by Lithuania for a deadly assault in Vilnius on January 13, 1991. Golovatov led a Soviet elite unit at the time that carried out the attack.

Claiming however that Lithuania had failed to provide additional information needed to place the Russian under detention pending extradition, Austria released Golovatov less than 24 hours after his arrest, prompting accusations it had caved in to Russian pressure.

Austrian MP Peter Pilz backed those claims Friday, insisting the Russian ambassador in Austria had "massively intervened" and threatened economic and political sanctions, as well as diplomatic tensions if Golovatov was not promptly freed.

At the same time, Pilz noted that Golovatov -- a vice-president of the Russian cross country ski federation -- repeatedly travelled to Europe after October 2010, when Lithuania issued a European warrant for his arrest, without ever being troubled.

Among the countries he is reported to have visited were the Czech Republic, Cyprus and Finland.

Helsinki revoked on Thursday Golovatov's Schengen visa for free travel within Europe, although Pilz rubbished as an "excuse" its claim that the visa had remained valid due to a different spelling of Golovatov's name in the Schengen system.

Earlier this week, the justice ministers of Austria and Lithuania set up a working group on the sidelines of an EU conference in Sopot, Poland, with the goal of improving cooperation on judicial issues.

© 2011 AFP

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