Soviet Interior Minister Wants Weapons Confiscation Deadline Extended
MOSCOW (AP) _ The Soviet Interior Minister has recommended that President Mikhail S. Gorbachev extend his Thursday deadline for militants to disarm and disband.
Vadim Bakatin told the official news agency Tass Wednesday he was making the suggestion because new leaders have come to power in Armenia, which hosts the country’s biggest and most defiant force of militants.
Gorbachev, trying to quell ethnic violence that has shaken this multinational country, declared July 26 that militants nationwide have 15 days to turn in their weapons.
But many militants, especially those in Armenia which is locked in a territorial dispute with neighboring Azerbaijan, have refused to comply with Gorbachev’s decree.
More than 200 people have been killed in ethnic clashes between Armenians and Azerbaijanis over control of the disputed territory of Nagorno-Karabakh, which Azerbaijan has held since 1923.
Soviet officials have warned that force would be used to confiscate any illegal weapons they can find after the deadline expired.
There was no immediate word whether Gorbachev, who is vacationing, had agreed to Bakatin’s recommendation. The Interior Minister did not say how long the deadline should be extended.
The Communist Party daily Pravda said Wednesday that only a handful of the militants’ estimated thousands of weapons have been turned in.
″The appeal to humanness and reason, inherent in the demand to hand over arms and stop bloodshed, did not find support among those who heighten criminal tensions in the country,″ Pravda said.
Bakatin said about 1,600 firearms and more than 100,000 rounds of ammunition were voluntarily handed in or confiscated from July 25 through Wednesday.
In Armenia, 6,700 firearms, including 1,200 submachine guns, have been stolen this year, Pravda said.
The Armenian parliament rejected Gorbachev’s order as interference in the republic’s internal affairs, and has begun debating an independence declaration.
But Bakatin appeared hopeful because of the election of a new president of Armenia. The president, Levon Ter-Petrosyan, arrived in Moscow on Wednesday for two days of talks with Soviet and Russian Federation leaders on the weapons decree and other issues, Tass reported.
Bakatin, who met Ter-Petrosyan on Wednesday, told Tass, ″Until recently, republican authorities did not take a constructive attitude. However, there are grounds to maintain that the political situation in the republic is changing.
″Hope has appeared that Armenian authorities can resolve, within a short period and on their own, all tasks concerning ... the stabilization of the socio-political situation in the republic.″
Bakatin said the Interior Ministry consulted with Armenia’s new leaders and that they agreed on ″the need to strengthen law and order, protect citizens and rule out the unlawful bearing of arms.″
Ter-Petrosyan, a leader of the Armenian National Movement, told his republic’s parliament on Tuesday that Armenia could handle its own problems - a response to Kremlin threats to send in troops to enforce order if Gorbachev’s decree on weapons is ignored.
But it was unclear whether he would directly ask the militants to give up their weapons and if he did, whether they would comply.
The Soviet Interior Ministry faced a problem with another southern republic, Georgia. Georgian President Givi Gumbaridze told Tass his republic would not enforce Gorbachev’s order until the republic’s parliamehnt ends its session on Aug. 17.