Lithuania demands Austrian explanation for suspect's release
Lithuania on Saturday demanded a "convincing explanation" from Austria for freeing a Russian wanted over a bloody 1991 Soviet crackdown on the Baltic states independence drive.
Vilnius received confirmation from Vienna that Mikhail Golovatov was freed on Saturday, less than two days after he was arrested in the Austrian capital on a European arrest warrant, a Latvian foreign ministry statement said.
"We are waiting for a convincing Austrian explanation as to the reasons that led to this decision and why the decision was taken so promptly," it quoted Lithuanias foreign minister Audronius Azubalis as saying.
A formal note will be handed to Austrias ambassador on Monday, the ministry said.
The statement said Lithuania did not know the motives for the release but a diplomat, requesting anonymity, told AFP that Lithuania suspected Russian involvement.
"We have suspicions Russia put pressure on Austria," the Lithuanian foreign ministry official said.
Golovatov headed the so-called Alpha Group, a special unit that stormed the main TV tower in Vilnius, a focal point of the anti-Soviet freedom movement.
At least 14 civilians died and hundreds were injured in the attack on the Vilnius television tower on January 13, 1991.
The killings came after the state-controlled media had swung behind Sajudis, the freedom movement founded in 1988, two years before Lithuania declared independence.
News of Golovatov's release came just after Azubalis spoke to his Austrian counterpart Michael Spindelegger on Friday evening.
During the call, the Lithuanian minister said it was "a question of national importance" that justice is done in the so-called "January 13" case, said the statement.
Golovatov was suspected of crimes against humanity and war crimes and could face up to life imprisonment if found guilty by a Lithuanian court.
Six Lithuanian Soviet-era officials were convicted and jailed in the 1990s for their role in the crackdown, but Lithuania has been unable to try a few dozen other suspects believed to be hiding in Russia and Belarus.
Earlier this year, prosecutors said they wanted to question ex-Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev who was in power from 1985 to 1991 as the Soviet Union unravelled.
Ties between Lithuania, a nation of three million, and Russia have been rocky since independence, notably since Vilnius joined the European Union and NATO in 2004.
© 2011 AFP