Army unit commander fired by minister

  • 2001-05-17
  • Jorgen Johansson
RIGA - In the wake of young Vladimirs G.'s death in the Latvian army's special task force unit during an initiation ritual two weeks ago, the commander of that unit, Harijs Arnicans, has been fired by Defense Minister Girts Valdis Kristovskis.

Last week there were rumors about whether or not Latvian National Armed Forces Commander Raimonds Graube would suffer Arnicans' fate, but now it seems as if Graube will continue in his job after all.

The Defense Ministry and the nation's armed forces have together written a report and submitted it to the country's top officials and the Parliament's defense and interior affairs committee.

This report aims at eliminating such violent rites in the army - Vladimirs G. died as a result of a sharp blow to his chest, which caused his heart to fail - and also to raise the quality of Latvia's mandatory military service.

The ritual itself was carried out by conscripts who had been enlisted for nine months, and those exposed had only been in the army for half a year. As a part of the rite, repeated poundings to the heart area were administered.

Graube told reporters on May 9 that the army's in-house investigation is aiming to uncover the whole chain of events that led to the soldier's death. A criminal investigation is also underway to determine the identity of the perpetrators.

This will, however, be difficult since it is already established that the responsible person hurriedly left the army. According to the armed forces, the unit commander should assume responsibility for the death.

Graube added that Arnicans had on previous occasions failed to follow orders from superior officers connected to ensuring discipline in his unit.

Kristovskis said he regretted the incident and that he felt morally responsible for the situation in the army.

"There is no justification for the death, no explanation that can be provided," he said. "We must do all we can to avoid these things happening again."

It has been said that Vladimirs G.'s relatives will receive some 50,000 lats ($80,600) in compensation.

The Latvian special task force unit is to undergo some serious changes. First of all, conscripts are not to serve in it. In future the unit will comprise only high class professionals. Further changes include keeping youths with a criminal record out of the army ranks. Until now, every fifth or sixth person enrolled has had a criminal history.