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Latvia: Shots Heard Before Swedish Plan Crashed

Washington, 21 October 1996 (RFE/RL) -- Latvia has entered the case of the Swedish air force jet which crashed into the Baltic Sea last Wednesday near a Russian nuclear-powered warship.

A statement from the Latvian Foreign Ministry released by the embassy in Washington Friday says that one of several Latvian Coast Guard ships "observing" the nuclear-powered cruiser "Pjotr Veliky" and two other Russian navy ships "heard shots of automatic weapons" shortly before the plane fell into the sea.

The Latvian ministry says the three Russian Navy ships had anchored 25 miles off the coast, within Latvia's economic zone but outside its territorial waters, unannounced and uninvited Tuesday evening. It said Russian military aircraft "repeatedly" flew low over Latvian Coast Guard ships which were investigating the arrival of the Russian ships.

It said that at 1400 hours Wednesday, the Swedish air force fighter jet "fell within the economic zone of Latvia in direct proximity" of the Russian ship, shortly after Latvian coast guardsmen heard the gunfire. Shortly after the fall of the Swedish plane, says the Latvian foreign ministry, two of the Russian naval ships "took course to Baltijsk, but the third took part in the rescue mission lifting on board the fragments of the fallen aircraft."

Latvia says two of its Coast Guard ships were also involved in rescue operations. The foreign ministry said it had called the Russian ambassador in on Wednesday before the aircraft incident to tell him that there was "no reason" for the Russian navy to be "located in direct proximity to the territorial waters" of Latvia.