Estonia unearths Soviet war dead

April 30, 2007

The Estonian authorities say they have found the coffins of 12 Soviet soldiers buried at a controversial war memorial, amid a continuing row with Russia.

Estonia’s decision to remove the statue of a Red Army soldier sparked riots last week. One Russian died and 153 were injured in the unrest. Protesters are now blockading Estonia’s Moscow embassy, according to officials. Estonians say the soldier symbolised Soviet occupation. Russians say it is a tribute to those who fought the Nazis. It has now been relocated to a military cemetery, away from the centre of the capital Tallinn. Estonian President Toomas Hendrik Ilves described the continuing protests outside the embassy in Moscow as “psychological terror”.

He said more than 20 Estonian citizens were trapped in the building because angry Russian youths would not disperse. The Estonian foreign ministry has accused Russia of violating the Vienna Convention on diplomatic relations, saying the protesters in Moscow have hurled stones and paint at the embassy. Earlier, Estonia accused Russia of provoking two nights of rioting over the removal of the World War II memorial. A Russian parliament delegation is now in Tallinn and has called on the Estonian government to resign over the removal of the monument. Historical tensions Estonia’s government says the 1.83m (six-foot) statue will be on show to the public at the military cemetery in time for the World War II Victory Day anniversary on 9 May. The anniversary is traditionally a day of patriotism and pride for many Russians.

1918 : Estonia gained independence from Russia
1940 : Forcibly incorporated into Soviet Union
1941-1944 : Occupied by Nazi Germany
1944 : Soviets return as Nazis retreat
1991 : Gains independence as Soviet Union collapses
1994 : Last Russian forces leave Estonia
Now : Ethnic Russians make up quarter of Estonia’s 1.3m people

Estonian Prime Minister Andrus Ansip said any soldiers’ remains found would also be moved to the cemetery “as soon the necessary preparations are completed”. The BBC’s Richard Galpin says it is being perceived as one insult too many by local ethnic Russians, after what they feel has been years of discrimination against them by the majority Estonian population. More than a quarter of Estonia’s 1.3m people are ethnically Russian, and speak the language. However, half of them do not have Estonian citizenship. During the years of Soviet occupation after the war tens of thousands of Estonians were killed. They say their country was effectively colonised with many Russians being brought in as workers and military personnel.

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Published: 2007/04/30 14:59:29 GMT