Two Soviet OMON officers to be tried

  • 2001-09-27
  • Rokas M. Tracevskis
VILNIUS - Crossing the border between Lithuania and Belarus at Medininkai one passes a monument to the victims of a massacre - seven white marble crosses on a black pedestal. It is a monument to seven victims of the Soviet Union's OMON special forces who died there.

Their alleged killers now face justice.

On Sept. 14 the Lithuanian prosecutor general turned over a case against alleged members of OMON who are charged with terrorism against the state to Vilnius Court.

The case comprises material from investigations into actions carried out by OMON members between Jan. 14, 1991 and Aug. 19, 1991.

Two former OMON officers who were based in Vilnius, Aleksandr Skliar, 39, and Eduardas Petrauskas, 42, will appear in an open court to answer the allegations.

Their unit allegedly seized Police Academy buildings for eight months, attacked customs posts at Lavoriskes, Medininkai, Salcininkai, Zarasai and Smelyne, shot at a Defense Ministry bus and occupied the Vilnius Telegraph and Telephone Center for several hours.

"Skliar and Petrauskas did not head the unit, but they were officers, not just chauffeurs," said Algimantas Kliunka, head of the organized crime investigation department at the prosecutor general's office.

"They had power to give orders."

The court earlier ruled that in the interests of objectivity, leaders of the OMON force must participate. But Russia refused to allow Lithuanian officials to question two Russian citizens, Boleslav Makutinovich and Vladimir Razvodov, who allegedly headed the Vilnius OMON division and are accused of at least 15 serious crimes against the Lithuanian state and its officials.

Skliar is charged with instigating a conspiracy to overthrow the state, playing an active role in that conspiracy, committing harm to the state, sabotage, violence against state officials, destruction of private property and other crimes.

Petrauskas is accused of instigating a conspiracy against the state, violence against state officials and destruction of private property.

A trial date has yet to be announced.

Legal assistance treaties between Moscow and Vilnius do not allow either country to give up its citizens to the other.

The locations of other members of the Vilnius division of OMON who participated in the fight against the democratically elected Lithuanian government in 1991 are unknown to Lithuanian officials.

Cases against Makutinovich, Razvodov and other OMON troops whose locations are unknown have been combined in a separate criminal case.

On Jan. 11, 1991, 10 months after the establishment of Lithuanian independence, thirty-two policemen under Makutinovich's command split from the rest of the Interior Ministry, which had pledged allegiance to the independent Lithuanian state.

The breakaway troops declared they were officers of the Soviet Union and answerable only to Soviet law. They established themselves in the building of the Police Academy on the outskirts of Vilnius and stole weapons from the Lithuanian Interior Ministry and other state institutions. They continued to operate until Aug. 25 that year, when they were disbanded and disarmed.

The Vilnius OMON division closely cooperated with its more powerful counterpart in Riga, at the time when Latvia's Parliament had proclaimed a transitional period on the way to independence.

Latvia's Interior Ministry was a go-between between Riga and Moscow, but its OMON unit was loyal only to Moscow.

At the Medininkai massacre on July 31, 1991, Soviet commandos killed customs officials Antanas Musteikis, Stanislovas Orlavicius and Ricardas Rabavicius and policemen Mindaugas Balavakas, Algimantas Juozakas, Juozas Janonis and Algirdas Kazlauskas.

Their eighth victim, customs official Tomas Sernas, survived although he was shot in the head and wounded in both cerebral hemispheres. Now a Protestant priest, he cannot walk and uses a wheelchair.

All the victims were unarmed in the belief that leaving border officials unarmed would be less likely to provoke the Soviets.

The prosecutor general's office believes it has enough evidence to prove that the massacre was carried out by special terrorist groups Delta I and Delta II, which nominally were a part of Riga's OMON division but received orders directly from Moscow. The Vilnius unit supplied the killers with information and showed them the way to the customs post.

Commandos from both Delta forces were seen in Vilnius on the day of the massacre and again returning by train to Daugavpils the next day.

Conservative MP and former independence leader Vytautas Landsbergis recalled the case during a recent sitting of the Parliament at which this month's terrorist attacks in New York and Washington were condemned. "OMON was a terrorist organization," he said. "We can't just say that the case is hopeless because its members escaped to Russia. All terrorists should be prosecuted."