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Armenia: Ter-Petrossian Criticizes Charges Against Old Ally

Yerevan, 28 January 1999 (RFE/RL) -- Former Armenian president Levon Ter-Petrossian has broken his year-long silence to condemn the present authorities over murder charges leveled against his long-time interior minister.

In a statement distributed to the press (Jan. 26), Ter-Petrossian welcomed the Armenian parliament's refusal earlier in the day to allow the prosecution and arrest of Vano Siradeghian, who is also chairman of the opposition Armenian Pan-National Movement. The ex-president, who ruled Armenia from 1991 to 1998, said the allegations were not substantiated with sufficient evidence and had "disgraced" Armenia.

Armenia's Prosecutor General Aghvan Hovsepian charged on Monday that Siradeghian ordered the murder of two police officers five years ago after they had failed to assassinate a Russian businessman of Armenian origin.

According to the chief prosecutor, the two officers were among a group of interior ministry employees sent to Moscow in December 1993 to murder Serge Jilavian. The prosecutor said there is, in his words, "sufficient evidence" to claim that the later killings of the policemen were "ordered" by Siradeghian.

Siradeghian's center-right Armenian Pan-National Movement (HHSh) has the second largest faction in parliament. The party lost its ruling status in February 1998 after its unofficial leader, Ter-Petrossian, was forced to step down by his key ministers led by then prime minister and current President Robert Kocharian. Ter-Petrossian, known for his avoidance of the media, has since kept a low profile and has not spoken out in public.

In his statement last night, he said that "the gravest accusations were based on the testimony of only one person." He accused the prosecutor of being either "absolutely illiterate or an obedient servant." Ter-Petrossian also warned that by, in his words, "using the testimony of one villain, this prosecutor can open a criminal case against any citizen."

Siradeghian has said that the main witness in the case, an arrested former commander of the Armenian interior troops, is "mentally sick." He has denied the charges, saying they are politically motivated. In a speech in parliament on Monday, Siradeghian suggested he is being targeted by politicians from Nagorno-Karabakh, whom he suggested are playing too large a role in Armenian politics. President Kocharian is among political leaders who originated in Azerbaijan's mostly ethnic-Armenian breakaway region.

The lack of unanimity in the majority Yerkrapah faction was apparently responsible for the outcome of yesterday's parliamentary vote. Yerkrapah is headed by the powerful Defense Minister, Vazgen Sarkisian, and has until now been loyal to Kocharian.

Siradeghian was interior minister from 1992 to 1996. He alleged last month that the government resorted to vote rigging in September 1996 to secure a second five-year term for Ter-Petrossian. He said Ter-Petrossian then fell into a "three-month depression." Despite those comments, he recently told RFE/RL that his relations with the former president remained "friendly."

(Emil Danielyan is a Yerevan-based contributor to RFE/RL.)