Armenian National Army Reportedly Disbands, State Of Emergency Remains
MOSCOW (AP) _ A renegade paramilitary group agreed to disband after the Armenian Parliament outlawed it and declared a state of emergency, the republic’s president announced today.
Leaders of the Armenian National Army were to make a television appeal for several hundred members to turn in their weapons, Levon Ter-Petrosyan told Parliament, according to the official Tass news agency.
Acceptance of the appeal would defuse tensions in one of the Soviet Union’s most volatile republics, where fighting with neighboring Azerbaijan has claimed hundreds of lives in the last two years.
The Armenian National Army claims to protect Armenians from armed groups from the neighboring republic of Azerbaijan. But its members have also attacked police stations and gasoline depots in Armenia to steal weapons and fuel they need to fight Azerbaijanis.
The group, formed in January, is thought to have several hundred hard-core fighters and many more sympathizers.
Parliament declared the emergency Wednesday, following shootings in the republic’s capital, Yerevan. Members of the Armenian National Army with automatic weapons had attacked the headquarters of the Armenian National Movement, a group loyal to the local government.
Separately, a lawmaker and a member of the Armenian National Movement were shot and killed early Wednesday as they approached the Armenian National Army headquarters to investigate an earlier attack on a gasoline station.
Parliament imposed an overnight curfew and gave the Armenian National Army until Wednesday night to disband, disarm and turn over vehicles and buildings it had seized.
When the deadline passed, Armenian Interior Ministry troops and police in central Yerevan surrounded three buildings that are the Armenian National Army’s headquarters, where about 250 armed members had gathered, the independent Interfax news agency said.
Lawmakers negotiated with the armed men, who demanded their members be allowed to leave with their weapons so they could join legal military forces under the government’s jurisdiction, Tass said.
Their demand was rejected, and shortly after midnight, about 200 of the militants surrendered and turned in their weapons, Tass said. About 50 managed to flee with their weapons and ammunition, Tass said.
The parliamentary decree granted immunity to those who surrendered peacefully, and provides severe punishments for those who ignored it.
The mainly Christian Armenia and mainly Moslem Azerbaijan have for two years waged a bloody battle for control over Nagorno-Karabakh, a largely Armenian enclave inside Azerbaijan.
The protracted fighting prompted President Mikhail S. Gorbachev to issue a decree in July ordering illegally armed groups throughout the country to disband and disarm. The decree was largely ignored and extended into September.
Ter-Petrosyan said the state of emergency and curfew would remain in effect until violence ended. Parliament said the measures would be enforced solely by police and troops under their control, not by Soviet forces.
Armenia’s Parliament recently voted to become independent from the Soviet Union and to create its own armed forces to safeguard the border.