Lithuania opens war crimes trial of former Soviet officials

Dozens of former Soviet military officials have gone on trial in Lithuania accused of war crimes and crimes against humanity during a crackdown on a pro-independence movement in 1991.

Russia has refused to cooperate with the investigation and most of the accused, who live outside Lithuania, will not attend the trial, which coincides with heightened tensions between Moscow and Vilnius over the Ukraine crisis.

Prosecutors say 14 civilians were killed by the Soviet army in January 1991, all but one of them during the storming of the state television headquarters and TV tower by Soviet paratroopers. More than 700 others were wounded.

In March 1990 Lithuania had become the first Soviet republic to declare independence from Moscow. The Soviet Union was formally dissolved in December 1991.

The former Soviet defence minister Dmitry Yazov, now 91, is the highest-ranking person in the list of 65 former military officials and army officers charged by Lithuania’s chief prosecutor. They are all citizens of Russia, Belarus or Ukraine.