Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev Wednesday ordered all Lithuanians to turn in their firearms and directed the KGB to increase control of the border of the secession-minded republic.
A directive from Gorbachev, read on the evening television program "Vremya," said the Soviet Interior Ministry should confiscate guns from anyone who refuses to turn them in during the next seven days.The order was sure to heighten the tension between Moscow and Lithuania, which declared independence on March 11. Gorbachev and the Soviet Congress have declared the move illegal.
Lithuanians have begun signing up for voluntary defense service, and some Lithuanians serving in the Soviet armed forces have deserted.
Gorbachev said he ordered KGB border guards to strengthen Lithuania's foreign border and prevent what he called illegal acts. The Foreign Ministry also was ordered to clamp tighter controls on granting foreigners the right to travel to the republic.
Wednesday's announcements came after the prime minister of Lithuania wrote to Kremlin leaders expressing concern over increased military activity in and around the Baltic republic.
Lithuania's official Bureau of Information quoted Prime Minister Kazimiera Prunskiene as saying the people were "deeply disturbed" by the maneuvers.
"The military leadership explained that this is part of a program of standard maneuvers. However, the government of Lithuania has not been informed either of the initiation of these maneuvers or of their completion," she said. The telegram was addressed to Gorbachev, Prime Minister Nikolai Ryzhkov and Defense Minister Dmitry Yazov.
White House spokesman Marlin Fitzwater Tuesday voiced concern about the military exercises. Soviet assurances that Moscow did not plan to use force against the republic failed to calm Washington's fears. The United States is particularly worried about reports of troops and tanks massing in the south of the Baltic republic, Fitzwater said.
Gorbachev has said he would not use force, and Foreign Minister Eduard Shevardnadze, speaking Tuesday in Namibia, reiterated that position: "We are against the use of force in any region and particularly against the use of force domestically."