Ex-Soviet officer gets life for 1991 Lithuania killings

11th May 2011, Comments 0 comments

A Soviet-era officer received a life sentence from a Lithuanian court Wednesday over a 1991 shooting spree, in a case that has long poisoned the Baltic state's ties with its former master Moscow.

The regional court in the Lithuanian capital Vilnius gave Konstantin Mikhailov the maximum penalty for his involvement in the killing of seven border guards and customs and police officers.

"Konstantin Mikhailov committed a serious crime, and thus has been sentenced to life in prison," said the judge, Viktoras Dovydaitis, as the defendant, lawyers, prosecutors and victims' relatives listened in a public hearing.

Mikhailov, clean-shaven and wearing jeans and a white shirt, did not show any emotion when he learned his fate, and simply glanced at the public gallery. He has 20 days to appeal against his conviction.

The July 31, 1991 assault on the Medininkai crossing on Lithuania's border with Belarus was one of the bloodiest episodes in Moscow's failed attempts to stop Lithuania breaking from the Soviet Union.

Six guards perished in the execution-style shooting. Another died of wounds on August 2, and the sole survivor was left disabled.

The attack came amid tensions as the Soviet Union lurched towards eventual collapse in December 1991.

Lithuania had declared independence in March 1990 after almost five decades of Soviet rule, creating the hallmarks of a free country, including a border service.

Moscow imposed an economic blockade and, when that failed, turned violent.

At least 14 civilians died and hundreds were injured in a crackdown in Vilnius on January 13, 1991.

Moscow only recognised Lithuania's independence after the failure of a Kremlin coup by hardliners in August 1991 sped the Soviet Union's demise.

© 2011 AFP

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