Two convoys of Soviet troops left the Lithuanian capital Wednesday and the republic's president said a withdrawal could set the stage for new talks between Moscow and the breakaway republics.
The death toll in the Baltics, meanwhile, rose to 20 when Jonas Tautkus, 20, died from a gunshot wound to the head he suffered a day earlier at a military checkpoint. Lithuanian officials said the apparent draft-dodger was shot when he refused to get out of his car; military officials said he was hit by a ricochet.Soviet Interior Minister Boris Pugo said all paratroopers have already left the Baltic region and two-thirds of the "black beret" Interior Ministry troops had also been withdrawn.
Lithuanian President Vytautas Landsbergis said Kremlin promises to remove at least some troops were a good sign, but Soviet forces still occupied Lithuania's buildings and a propaganda war was being waged against the republic.
Responding to President Bush's announcement that Moscow had conveyed a willingness to "move away from violence," Landsbergis said the United States should be wary of Soviet promises.
The parliament information office said two convoys of about 45 vehicles, and planes carrying 30-40 truckloads of soldiers, left the capital this morning.
But Lithuanians said they could not confirm the forces actually left Lithuania or were merely rede-ployed elsewhere in the small Baltic state.
Soviet military crackdowns since Jan. 13 in Lithuania and Latvia had left 19 people dead.
Pugo, interviewed by the newspaper Robochaya Tribuna, said, "all army paratroop units were withdrawn from the Baltic region by Jan. 28" and only conventional forces remained.
"Two-thirds of Interior Ministry troops were withdrawn by Jan. 29," Pugo said. "One-third of these troops remain for the present, but as calm is returning; they will not remain there forever."
At a news conference Tuesday night, Landsber-gis said a troop withdrawal could be the key to renewed talks with the Kremlin.
"If we receive signs that the military presence is being reduced, it would be a good signal for us for negotiations," he said.
But he said Lithuania would not turn away from independence. Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia were forcibly annexed by the Soviet Union in 1940 after being independent between the wars.
"The decision on the restoration of statehood of Lithuania and all the major acts cannot be rescinded regardless of what they may offer instead or in spite of any threats," he said.
But, he said, "our relations with the Soviet Union have to be regulated, even after these bloody events, and we are ready to talk."
The military crackdown began this month when Soviet paratroopers were sent into the Baltics in a search for draft evaders.