Lithuania convicts ex-Soviet commando in 1991 raid

AP News
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Posted: May 11, 2011 7:37 AM
Lithuania convicts ex-Soviet commando in 1991 raid

A former member of a Soviet special police unit was found guilty of murder and was sentenced to life in prison Wednesday for his role in the killings of seven Lithuanian border guards in 1991.

Konstantin Mikhailov is the first person to be tried and convicted for involvement in the pre-dawn raid on a Lithuanian border checkpoint that occurred as Soviet forces tried to crush the Baltic republic's quest for independence.

The Vilnius Regional Court also ordered Mikhailov, a Latvian citizen, to pay 2.2 million litas ($1 million) in compensation to Lithuania. He declared his innocence, and was likely to appeal the ruling.

Like its Baltic neighbors, Lithuania set up checkpoints manned by unarmed guards after declaring independence in the waning months of the Soviet Union. Soviet authorities viewed the border posts as illegal.

In one of the bloodiest assaults on the rebellious republic, seven border guards were shot to death and one was wounded as OMON commandos from the Soviet Interior Ministry raided the Medininkai checkpoint on the border of Lithuania and Belarus in July 1991.

"All those officers were killed only because they served at the checkpoint of the Republic of Lithuania. There were no other reasons for this execution," judge Viktoras Dovidaitis said as he delivered Mikhailov's sentence.

Lithuania has for years tried to prosecute the members of the OMON squad, which was based in Latvia. Mikhailov was arrested in Latvia in 2007 and extradited to Lithuania to stand trial. Several other members of the unit are believed to have fled to Russia.

Tomas Sernas, the only survivor of what Lithuanians call the "Medininkai massacre," said he was happy with the ruling and called it a "triumph of justice."

Sernas, who was shot the head and is now confined to a wheelchair, said he doubts the other suspects will be brought to justice. Moscow has turned down repeated requests to hand over three other OMON officers accused of taking part in the shooting.

Mikhailov professed his innocence before the verdict was read. "I did not commit this crime _ I have nothing to do with these accusations," he said.

Western nations began recognizing Lithuania's independence slightly over a month after the Medininkai shootings.