News highlights from Lithuania,
Latvia and Estonia.
News Highlights from
August 10August 17, 1998
Canadian justice officials have begun hearing witness testimony
in the case of a Latvian-Canadian accused of lying about his Nazi past.
The special court session is part of an
on-going hearing to determine whether Eduards Podins lied about working as a concentration
camp guard during the World War II Nazi occupation of Latvia.
The 80-year-old Podins has denied serving as a
Nazi guard, saying that he simply ran a store that sold goods at the camp.
If the Canadian court finds Podins did lie, he
could be stripped of his Canadian citizenship and deported to Latviawhere Latvian
prosecutors could charge him with war crimes.
Nazi forces occupied Latvia from 1941-1944,
when over 80 percent of some 90,000 Latvian Jews were murdered.
After regaining independence from the Soviet
Union in 1991, Latvia vowed to prosecute Nazi war criminals.
A dozen witnesses are expected to testify at
the hearing, which is being held in the town of Valmiera, 100 kilometers northeast of Riga
and near where Podins is alleged to have worked as a guard.
Most of the witnesses are now in their 70s and
80s, and were unable to travel to Canadaso the Canadian federal court arranged a
hearing in Latvia itself.
The hearing in Valmiera is expected to continue
for two weeks.
German treasure hunters who have been combing the Lithuanian
coast for months in an attempt to find long-lost czarist riches say they could be closer
than ever to actually uncovering it.
The German team on August 13 was slated to
begin uncovering a mysterious cache of metal buried 20 meters off shore in a lagoon along
Lithuanias Curonian peninsula.
What they hope they find after several days of
excavation work are remnants of Peter the Greats famed Amber Room, which the Germans
say they have reason to believe are buried in the shallow lagoon near the town of Preila,
some 350 kilometers west of Vilnius.
During their siege of what was then Leningrad,
Nazi troops dismantled the 50 sq. meters of priceless amber panels from a czarist palace
and spirited them away. But they were then lost.
Germanys government claims the panels
were destroyed during a 1945 Soviet bombing of nearby Konigsbergnow Kaliningrad,
Russia. But Moscow and many historians argue that the contraband was buried and survived
The German treasure hunters are being aided by
a Lithuanian mine sweeping squad, which will make sure the unknown objects just beneath
the Baltic Sea floor are not explosives.
To make excavation of the site easier, a
makeshift dike has been constructed to drain water from the lagoon.
A local government has set up a special
committee to oversee the operation and Lithuanian troops have also been posted in the area
to ensure security.
The excavation is being funded by the German TV
company NDR, which has been granted exclusive rights to film the hunt for treasure. Local
officials, however, say they wont forfeit any rights to any discovered valuables.
News Highlights from
August 3August 10, 1998
British citizen Martyn Symons who has been on trial in Estonia
for plotting to murder his boss has maintained all along that the whole thing was a big
mistake. His defense?: It was a joke, but no one understood the punch line.
Courts in Estonia, however, didnt buy it,
handing down a guilty verdict in the case on August 5, and sentencing Symons to three
years in prison.
The 36-year-old Symons said his Estonian
co-workers in Tallinn spoke broken English and failed to pick up on the subtitles of
British humor when he wrote in a fax that his boss should be
"topped"considered British slang for "kill".
But prosecutors argued in court that Symons
pursued the matter further, even negotiating a 4,000-dollar payment with a hit man to
plant a bomb in the car of his boss, managing director of the Olympic Casino in Tallinn,
Prosecutors say Symons, a lower-level manager
at the casino, wanted Karu killed so he could take over the lucrative gambling operation.
An Estonian co-worker, Kaido Esna, was also
founded guilty of taking part in the murder conspiracy. He was sentenced to seven months
Lawyers for both Symons and Esna said they
would appeal the decisions.
During the trial, defense lawyers called
special witnesses from Britain to testify about the meaning of the word
"topped." They also argued that Symons was entrapped by police who got him to
make incriminating statements on tape.
The alleged target of the murder conspiracy
said he also wasnt buying the defense argument that it was all a joke.
He wanted to kill me, and Im lucky
to be alive," Karu told journalists earlier this year. "The word
topped is very suspicious. If its a joke, it is not one I
In one of the most anticipated rock concerts ever in the Baltic
states, the Rolling Stones performed in front of a crowd of about 50,000 enthusiastic fans
in Tallinn on August 8.
On a cool, cloudy evening at Tallinns outdoor
Song Festival Grounds, theBritish rockers kicked off their concert with Satisfaction, and
concluded two hours later with Jumping Jack Flash and Brown Sugar.
During the concert Mick Jagger on several
occasions spoke in Estonian, saying at one point "Tore on siin olla!" (Its
great to be here) and later, gesturing to the crowd, "Te olete fantastilised!"
(You are fantastic).
The Rolling Stones told Estonian television
that they extended their stay in Estonia to three days because they wanted to spend more
time sight-seeing around Tallinn. After their Friday concert, they reportedly stopped into
a local dance club, Delkotee.
Many people in the audience traveled from the
other two Baltic states to attend the concert. Many also came from Finland and Sweden.
Concert tickets, at around 50 dollars a piece,
were beyond the means of many people in Estonia, where the average income is about 300
dollars a month.
Also in the audience was 12-year-old Estonian
Mikk Jäger, who media reports say was given free tickets to the concert because of his
Latvia has said it will not extend an agreement allowing Russia
to use a major radar base on Latvian territorydespite reports that the Kremlin could
apply economic pressure if it does not.
On August 7, the Baltic News Service (BNS)
quoted Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Valeri Nesterushkin as saying Moscow could
cancel Latvias Most Favored Nation trade status if it did not allow the radar in the
town of Skrunda to keep operating.
A statement by the Latvian foreign ministry
reacting to the report said the treaty on the Skrunda radar, which calls for the facility
to be shut down by August 31, had to be fulfilled.
"Talk of continuing the operation of the
radar station or of halting the dismantlement of the station are empty," the
The Latvian ministry, however, said it had no
independent confirmation that Russia was seeking to prolong its rights to use the Skrunda
radar, located some 150 kilometers west of Riga. It said it was seeking clarification of
the BNS report.
Since the Russian troop withdrawal from the
Baltics, the Skrunda radar station has been the last outpost of a Russian military
presence in the region. Soviet troops occupied the Baltics during World War II and only
departed in 1994.
But as part of a troop withdrawal treaty,
Latvia allowed the Russians to continue operating the Skrunda radar, which was once one of
the Soviet Unions most important radar bases, responsible for scanning the Western
skies for incoming missiles.
Some observers have speculated that Russia has
not found a replacement for the Skrunda radar, and fears that the loss of the Latvian
facility will leave a hole in its western air defense network.
The United States will provide Estonian military forces with
over 40,000 rifles, which could play a key role in the countrys national defense.
The M-14 rifles, which are slated to be
delivered next year, will be used to arm Estonias 80,000-strong reserves.
Estonias standing army numbers just 2,500 men, and the reserves are a key part of
the nations defense force. Many of the reserves do not have guns, or use badly
The United States is donating the rifles, whose
total value is around 2.4 million dollars, the U.S. embassy in Tallinn said in a
statement. It would be one of the largest donations of arms to Estonia since it regained
Estonian defense officials say guerrilla
warfare, carried out by reserves from the nations vast, thick forests, would be a
cornerstone of defense strategy should the country ever be attacked.Estonia has also
received military aid--mostly light weapons--from nearby Finland and Sweden. It has also
directly purchased weapons from Israel, China and Romania.
But confidence in the army at home seems low.
In a recent survey by the Tallinn-based Saar Poll, over 70 percent of Estonian respondents
said they did not believe their military could successfully repel an aggressor
A mysterious cache of metal has been detected underwater off the
coast of Lithuania, prompting speculation that it could be long-lost Czarist treasure
which many believe to be buried somewhere in the area.
A team of German treasure hunters has been
combing a nearby beach for months hoping to uncover remnants of Russian Czar Peter the
Greats famous Amber Room supposedly buried in the area by Nazi forces at the close
of World War II.
The treasure hunters were nearing the end of
their expedition this past week when large amounts of metal were discovered buried 20
meters off shore, near the town of Preilasituated on a peninsula 350 kilometers west
of Lithuanias capital Vilnius.
Excavators are building a makeshift dam to
block off the shallow waters, enabling them to dig up the objects. They say they have
reason to think they could be on to the Czarist treasure. They also admit the objects
could be scrap or old World War II mines.
The German team has been following leads
provided by an 80-year-old former resident of the peninsula who says he saw a Nazi
officers carrying mysterious boxes off a warship in 1944 and then burying them along the
shore near his home.
The German treasure hunters say a special
warehouse was constructed in the area by the Nazis, but it was soon reclaimed by the sea
and never again found. They say the Amber Room could be hidden away in the lost warehouse.
The fate of the Russian Czars Amber
Roomwhich was covered by some 50 sq. meters of priceless amber panels and once known
as the Eighth Wonder of the Worldhas long been a mystery, and a source of
speculation by historians.
During their siege of what was then Leningrad,
German forces dismantled the amber panels from a Czarist palace and spirited them away.
But they were then lost.
The German government has said the panels were
destroyed during a 1945 Soviet bombing of nearby Konigsbergnow Kaliningrad, Russia.
But Moscow has long insisted that Nazi Germany hid the treasure, and that it still exists
The body of a dolphin that apparently lost its way from the
Atlantic Ocean has washed ashore onto the coast of the Baltic Seanot considered a
natural habitat for the warm-blooded mammal.
The dolphin was found this week on a beach in nearby
Latvia, but was taken to a leading maritime museum in the Lithuanian seaport of Klaipeda,
350 kilometers west of the capital Vilnius, for further examinations.
Museum biologists said the dolphin probably
swam into the Baltic Sea in pursuit of a school of salmon or herring. Baltic waters,
however, are not considered salty or warm enough to support dolphin life for very long.
The museum denied rumors that the dolphin could
have been one of five U.S. military dolphins that were recently taking part in mine
sweeping exercises off the Baltic coast.
All five dolphins were accounted for and had since
left the region, the museum said.
The dolphins had been flown in from San Diego,
Calf. along with seven tons of frozen fish and some 25 handlers to help look for World War
II-era mines still in the Baltic Sea.
The military dolphins performed badly, however,
and found no mines. Some blamed their poor performance on the uncomfortably cold Baltic
One of the dolphins also disappeared for
several hours, apparently on a search for a mate. At the time, U.S. officials feared a
diplomatic incident had the U.S. military dolphin strayed into nearby Russian waters.
The only previous record of a dolphin washing
ashore in the Baltics was in 1909.