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Baltic countries slam Austria's release of ex-KGB agent

RIA Novosti

17:11 19/07/2011 VILNIUS, July 19 (RIA Novosti) - The foreign ministers of Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia on Tuesday handed the European Commission a letter in which they complained that Austria released wanted ex-KGB Col. Mikhail Golovatov less than 24 hours after his arrest.

Golovatov, who is believed to have been behind a Soviet crackdown on Lithuania's push for independence in 1991, was arrested at a Vienna airport on Thursday but then released and allowed to travel to Moscow.

Golovatov told RIA Novosti on Saturday morning that he had arrived in Moscow.

"We emphasize that (the) European Arrest Warrant as an instrument of mutual trust within (the) EU should be effectively applied in practice in order to arrest and surrender persons, especially (those) involved in the war crimes and crimes against humanity," the letter to Justice Commissioner Viviane Reding said.

The protest came one day after Vilnius recalled the Lithuanian ambassador to Austria.

Austria's Justice Ministry has argued that the charges against the suspect were not adequately precise, and that Vilnius had not supplied additional information in time.

The international affairs committee of the Lithuanian parliament will request its allies in NATO and the European Union to assess Austria's actions. The committee said Austria possibly violated one of the EU's fundamental principles, the "principle of solidarity."

A Lithuanian diplomat, requesting anonymity, told AFP that Lithuania suspected Russian involvement. "We have suspicions Russia put pressure on Austria," the Lithuanian foreign ministry official said.

Golovatov was a former commander of the KBG's Alpha Group. Lithuanian authorities accuse him of organizing the storming of the state television studio on January 13, 1991, in which 14 people were killed and dozens were injured.

He could face life imprisonment if convicted.

Lithuanian Seimas Committee on Foreign Affairs said on Monday it would discuss the possibility of breaking off diplomatic ties with Austria over Golovatov's release.

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