The Vilnius Regional Court on July 9 acquitted two former members of the Soviet Union's OMON special forces who were charged with crimes against the Lithuanian state and involvement in a massacre of border officials in 1991.
The acquittal of Aleksandr Skliar, 40, and Eduardas Petrauskas, 43, prompted outrage among top Lithuanian politicians while the Prosecutor General's Office said it would appeal to the high court to reverse the decision.
"All terrorists should be prosecuted. The Soviet Union's OMON was a terrorist organization acting in the interests of another country. Many people remember their activity," said Vytautas Landsbergis, who is now the opposition Conservative party leader and was Lithuania's de facto president following its declaration of independence in March 1990.
"After March 11, 1990, OMON was illegal and a criminal organization. The very fact of membership in a criminal organization is a crime. I'm afraid that the Prosecutor General's Office made some professional mistakes and did not supply the court with obvious evidence," said Arturas Paulauskas, who was Lithuania's first post-Soviet prosecutor general and is now Parliament chairman and leader of the Social Liberals.A case against OMON officers failed in 1993 when a Vilnius court demanded more solid evidence, including the testimony of those who oversaw OMON's activities.
Skliar and Petrauskas were both charged with a variety of crimes against the state and in particular with involvement in the attack on a Lithuanian-Soviet border point at Medininkai on July 31, 1991, in which seven customs officials and border guards were shot dead and another one was seriously injured.
The latest hearing spanned OMON's activities in Lithuania between Jan. 14, 1991, and Aug. 19, 1991.
Both men were clearly relieved at the court's decision, shouting "Aciu! (Thank you)" to the judges.
"Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev and other leaders of the U.S.S.R. should be in this court, not simple officers of the Soviet forces," said Petrauskas.
But Algimantas Kliunka, who heads prosecutions of organized crimes at the Prosecutor General's Office, was indignant.
"Russia did not allow Lithuanian officials to question Vilnius' OMON heads who now live in Russia. Skliar and Petrauskas were not the main persons in OMON, but they were officers, not mere chauffeurs - they had the power to give orders," said Kliunka.
Lietuvos Zinios newspaper earlier stated that in 1991 Petrauskas was actually employed by Lithuania's secret service to report on OMON's activities.
The Medininkai killings themselves were committed by OMON officers based in the Latvian capital Riga, who received orders directly from Moscow, but they were shown the way to the crossing point by colleagues based in Vilnius.
Other crimes attributed to members of the Vilnius-based OMON unit were shooting at a Defense Ministry bus, the seizure of the police academy for eight months, attacks on border crossing posts at Lavoriskes, Salcininkai, Zarasai and Smelyne, and the occupation for several hours of the State Telegraph and Telephone Center in Vilnius.
After the re-establishment of Lithuania's independence the country's Soviet militia swore loyalty to Lithuania, but on Jan. 11, 1991, 32 men led by Boleslav Makutinovich split away, declaring they were still loyal to Moscow, and wreaked havoc until they were disbanded and disarmed on Aug. 25.
Makutinovich and another OMON leader, Vladimir Razvodov, have been charged with 15 serious crimes against the Lithuanian state and its officials but currently live in Russia.
The current Lithuanian-Russian legal assistance treaty makes no provision for either Russia or Lithuania to give up its citizens to the other country for prosecution.