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Feared Riot Police to Be Disbanded in Poland

September 29, 1989

WARSAW, Poland (AP) _ The Interior Ministry said today it will disband the ZOMO riot police, the widely scorned paramilitary units long associated with the Communist government’s repression of opposition activists.

The helmeted police, with shields and batons, were especially active following the imposition of martial law in December 1981.

The Interior Ministry, which controls the police, is still run by the Communists, one of four cabinet posts retained by the party after the formation this month of the East bloc’s first non-Communist-led government under Prime Minister Tadeusz Mazowiecki.

The decision to disband the ZOMO was made to save money and remove an ″irritation″ for society, said Wojciech Garstka, a ministry spokesman.

The ZOMO squads will be replaced by special ″preventive patrol units″ of the civic militia, as the police force is called, to be established in 22 of Poland’s 49 provinces, the state PAP news agency said.

In addition, the power to deploy the forces will be removed from provincial police chiefs and reserved for the office of the prime minister, a government presidium or the Interior Minister at their instruction, Garstka said.

″This is one of the most important changes because those troops were not bad by themselves but the formula for using them was wrong sometimes, and this formula is changing,″ the spokesman said.

Interior Minister Czeslaw Kiszczak had said this month in parliamentary hearings that he saw a need for some force trained to maintain public order.

″We assume at the same time these are indispensible troops because some danger for social peace and order will remain at a large scale that will have to be approached with mobilized troops,″ Garstka said. ″I am talking ... about various big events, first of all sports events.″

According to the Interior Ministry budget published in early September by the liberal Communist weekly Polityka, there were 12,819 positions in the ZOMO department, not counting part-time employees and others assigned temporarily, including those doing mandatory military service. The International Institute for Strategic Studies put the number of ZOMO at 28,000.

The ZOMO, which stands in Polish for Motorized Units of the Citizens Militia, had been used most to disband anti-Communist demonstrations during the years the government tried to suppress Solidarity and other opposition groups following martial law on Dec. 13, 1981.

The squads would spill out of armored trucks and double-step in ranks, the officers hidden behind helmets with face guards and large shields. Alerts of ″ZOMO ZOMO″ would turn heads of protesters and onlookers, and send tension through a crowd as the troops moved forward to force marchers into retreat.

The ZOMO have been controlled by Kiszczak during his eight years as interior minister, a post he retained in the new government after stepping down as prime minister in August following a futile three-week effort to form a Communist-led government.

He was the chief negotiater for the Communist authorities during spring ″round-table″ talks on political and economic reform that led to the restoration of Solidarity’s legal status April 17, largely democratic elections in June and eventually the creation of a Solidarity-led government.

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