Lithuania claims EU backing in war crime spat with Austria

20th July 2011, Comments 0 comments

Lithuania said Wednesday it received the backing of the European Union's justice chief in a bitter spat with Austria over its speedy release of a Russian accused by Vilnius of war crimes in 1991.

"I can firmly say that EU Justice Commissioner Viviane Reding understood and supported the Lithuanian position," Justice Minister Remigijus Simasius told AFP, a day after meeting his EU counterparts and Reding during unrelated talks in Poland.

Simasius rejected Austrian media reports highlighting Reding's support for Vienna's stance in a war of words between the two EU member states.

Lithuania has accused Austria of kowtowing to Russia, recalled its envoy to Vienna and summoned Austria's ambassador to demand an explanation -- with fellow Baltic states Latvia and Estonia also taking the latter step.

The Baltic trio have sent a letter of complaint to their EU partners and Reding, while Lithuania has taken action against Austria at Eurojust, the 27-nation bloc's legal arm.

Lithuania wants to try Mikhail Golovatov, who led a Soviet elite unit involved in a January 13, 1991 assault in Vilnius, amid efforts to bring the Baltic state to heel after its 1990 secession from Kremlin rule.

At least 14 civilians died and hundreds were injured in the attack, but a string of suspects have remained out of Lithuania's reach in Russia and Belarus.

Arrested Thursday at Vienna airport, Golovatov was released after 22 hours in custody.

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 counters that it did supply the necessary details despite being given only hours to do so.

© 2011 AFP

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