Lithuanians Encouraged By Outside Support
US plays down reaction to crackdown, as Gorbachev plays up mediation
VILNIUS, USSR — LITHUANIAN nationalists spent the early hours yesterday fighting exhaustion rather than tanks as a temporary truce eased tension. But many of them don't expect the calm to last. ``It's almost too quiet,'' said Rita Dabkus, Lithuaninan parliament spokeswoman. ``This may be the calm before the storm.''
Developments yesterday appeared to be moving in the Lithuanians' favor, after Soviet troops stormed television facilities Sunday, killing at least 13 people and wounding more than 100 others.
Lithuanuian President Vytautus Landsbergis told parliament that, for the first time during the crisis, he had spoken to Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev. Mr. Gorbachev said a visiting fact-finding commission of republican leaders sent from Moscow had his full support to mediate a peaceful solution to the crisis.
The mood in parliament was also bolstered by news that Russian Republic President Boris Yeltsin had reached agreement with representatives of Baltic republics in the Estonian capital of Tallinn on a declaration denouncing the killings and asking for United Nations intervention.
The crowd of civilians in the parliament's square, many of whom spent the night on a vigil to protect the building, welcomed the news. But some believed it was too good to be true.
``We have hope that the worst is over, but we don't trust anything that the Communists, the Army, and Gorbachev say anymore,'' said Isabel Steponaviciute, a professor at Vilnius University. ``They always seem to do the exact opposite of what they promise.''
The first breaks in the crisis came early yesterday, as parliament conducted a late-night session. Mr. Landsbergis, speaking in a low, drawn-out voice, told deputies that an agreement between the visiting fact-finding commission, the military, and the Lithuanian parliament had been reached, under which the Army promised not to act if the crowd in front of parliament dispersed.
Deputies discussed the agreement, many with their winter overcoats still on. Others were slumped over their desks, trying to grab a few minutes rest. Landsbergis, who spoke with a red, yellow, and green Lithuanian flag wrapped in a black sash of mourning behind him, left the chamber later to continue talks with the fact-finding commission. On Sunday, commission members had also met with representatives of the Committee for National Salvation, the orthodox Communist Party front organization that hopes to seize power.
The commission is composed of three republican leaders, including Armenian President Levon Ter-Petroysan, Byelorussian parliament head Nikolai Dementi, and Ukrainian Boris Oleinik, deputy chairman of the Soviet parliament's Council of Nationalities. The group was dispatched following a meeting last Saturday of the Federation Council in Moscow, which includes members from each of the country's 15 republics. Many republican leaders at the meeting objected to the use of military force to solve the Baltic crisis.
The commission's arrival on Sunday appears to have played a key role in halting further moves by the Soviet military. It includes people, such as Armenian nationalist Ter-Petrosyan, who are considered independent of the Kremlin. The commission is expected to return to Moscow to report on its findings.
When the announcement of the commission-negotiated truce was read to the crowd outside the parliament building, many were slow to leave, fearing an Army attack. But amid indications that the Army was not enforcing a 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. curfew, the crowd of about 15,000 dwindled to about a third of its original size within a couple of hours.
Inside the Parliament building, the 500 Lithuanian Defense Force volunteers who had barricaded themselves in are still prepared for the worst. Gedaminas Pirages said that he had not slept in the last three days and that the possibility of attack kept him alert.
``Everyone fears death, but it's our duty to defend the parliament,'' he said. ``If they come, we will meet them with Molotov cocktails - or should we now call them, `Gorbachev cocktails.'''
Landsbergis by yesterday noon was sure enough that no assault would be made in the immediate future that he instructed the volunteers to get some rest. Fire hoses that had been strewn about the foyer of parliament during the night had been rolled back up by morning, and furniture that had been piled in the windows had been returned to their normal places.
But just when the situation appeared to be taking the first steps toward a return to normalcy, reports started to pour in about trouble.
The only operating radio station in Kaunas, about 60 miles from Vilnius, went off the air about noon local time as parliament received reports that it had been seized by troops. There was also a report that the radio transmission center in Vilnius had been stormed by paratroopers. A parliament spokeswoman, meanwhile, said that the military had rounded up two young men early yesterday and that their whereabouts were unknown.
Lithuanian representatives told the fact-finding commission that, contrary to earlier reports, they did not start the hostilities at the television tower by firing on soldiers.
Nationalists have placed high hopes that outside intervention will save their independence effort. The agreement between Mr. Yeltsin and the Baltics could go a long way toward gaining international support.
Yeltsin and the leaders of the three Baltic republics issued a strong joint statement warning that the Kremlin's use of force ``endangers democracy and stability in the USSR and in the international community as well.''
Nevertheless, there are some doubts here that Yeltsin will be the savior of Lithuania. ``Our fate depends a lot on Russia, but you can't be too sure about Yeltsin. Lithuania really means nothing to him,'' said Andrjaitis Pranis, an engineer.
Meanwhile the crowd resents the way the official Soviet news media are manipulating the news to shift blame for the crisis on Lithuanians.
``We see how the Communists are lying about events here and it disgusts us,'' Mr. Pranis said. ``This whole business that the Committee for National Salvation has support of workers is a lie. All my fellow workers in my work collective support the parliament and stand for freedom.''