Czechs wade into Lithuania-Austria row over Soviet suspect

21st July 2011, Comments 0 comments

The Czech Republic Thursday waded into a bitter dispute between neighbour Austria and Lithuania over Vienna's speedy release of a Russian accused by Vilnius of war crimes in 1991.

"Those responsible for the violent death of individuals in the era of dictatorship in central and eastern Europe must face justice," the Czech foreign ministry said in a statement.

"Every European state has a moral duty to cooperate in such cases," it added.

Czech Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzenberg also telephoned his Lithuanian counterpart Audronius Azubalis to discuss the issue, a spokesman said.

Austria and fellow European Union member Lithuania are at loggerheads over last Friday's release of Mikhail Golovatov

Arrested Thursday at Vienna airport, Golovatov was set free 22 hours later and left the country.

Lithuania wants to try Golovatov, who led an elite Soviet unit, over a January 13, 1991 assault in Vilnius in which a least 14 civilians died and hundreds were injured.

The attack was part of failed Kremlin efforts to bring the Baltic state to heel after its 1990 secession from the Soviet Union.

While several Lithuanian Soviet-era officials were convicted after the country finally gained independence in 1991, a string of other suspects have remained out of reach in Russia and Belarus.

Vienna insists Lithuania failed to meet a deadline to provide additional information needed to place Golovatov under detention pending extradition, even though it was informed in good time.

Vilnius rejects that, saying that it did supply the necessary details despite being given only hours to do so, and has accused Vienna of kowtowing to Russia.

The dispute strikes a chord in Prague because the Czechs were ruled by a pro-Soviet communist regime until 1989.

© 2011 AFP

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