Derailment prompts suspicions of sabotage

  • 2001-07-12
  • Rokas M. Tracevskis
VILNIUS - The last car of a passenger train on its regular route from Riga to Vilnius derailed near Palemonas, near Lithuania's second city of Kaunas, early on July 6, on what officials believe may have been sabotaged tracks.

The train had only four cars carrying a total of 21 passengers and seven railroad employees, and there were eight passengers in the last car. The derailed car stood at a 45-degree angle after the accident, though no injuries were reported.

Inspectors are currently surveying the area along with officials from the security service and local police. Experts believe that the track was deliberately tampered with, because the rails were separated in the section of the line where the train derailed.

Lithuania's Acting Prime Minister Eugenijus Gentvilas, who visited the scene of the accident, said that 42 bolts were missing in the rails.

Lithuanian authorities have opened a criminal investigation into the derailment.

The train was traveling at 50 kilometers an hour before the accident. The majority of the passengers were Latvian, though there were also two Japanese citizens and one person without citizenship among the passengers.

After the locomotive driver noticed the disjoined rails and stepped on the brakes, the locomotive and three cars dashed over the damaged section. But the last car derailed and was suspended over a 20-meter slope.

Prosecutors and state security department officials are investigating several versions of the accident, with the focus being on an act of sabotage.

Opinions about the cause of the accident are varied. Some verge on the hysterical. Social Democrat MP Nikolaj Medvedev believes it is the work of right-wing extremists, manipulated by Moscow; it comes, he says, as Lithuania nears NATO membership. Medvedev is a member of the Parliament's committee on national security and defense.

"These people think that they're patriots of Lithuania. They're idiots. They don't know that they're being manipulated from abroad," Medvedev told The Baltic Times. "Their actions have nothing to do with patriotism. We assume their target was the Moscow-Kaliningrad train. Such pseudo-patriotism is used by foreign powers everywhere. They were silent when the rightwing (Conservatives and Liberals) were in power. They didn't want to harm them."

The Moscow-Kaliningrad train has more cars and follows no strict schedule.

Mecys Laurinkus, head of the state security department, says that the sabotage is just one of several versions. Some railway workers told the newspaper Lietuvos Rytas that the derailment could have been caused by railroad worker error.

But Medvedev pointed out that a similar act took place on Nov. 6, 1994, when a railway bridge over the Brazuole valley was blown up. Trains managed to stop and avoid the danger. That diversion was made when rightwing followers of Vytautas Landsbergis lost power to the leftists. No one was charged with the explosion.

"I hope that the Lithuanian Security Department will lose patience and find these criminals," Medvedev said. "But I'm not very optimistic. Manipulators of these ultra patriotic idiots want to present Lithuania as a unstable country to the rest of the world community."

In an interview to Lithuanian Radio Gentvilas entertained similar views: that the attack was the work of foreign agents and/or rightist extremists.

"They wanted to spoil Lithuania's image," he said. "Imagine what would have happened if they'd succeeded. The (July 6 holiday) celebrations of the crowning of Mindaugas would have been called off. The president would have had to proclaim state mourning instead."

Landsbergis aired his own speculation that the train accident on such an important national holiday could be the work of people opposed to Lithuanian membership in NATO.

"The event on the railroad on the morning of Lithuania's State Day, if it isn't the work of lunatics, appears extremely similar to premeditated sabotage," he said. "Anyone who wants there to be no invitation needs to destabilize the country, and one of the traditional methods is sabotage," Landsbergis explained in a press release on July 9.