Elite Soviet troops released the head of separatist Lithuania's Defense Ministry Monday about 12 hours after seizing him on a Vilnius street, an official at the republic's parliament said.

The official said OMON "black beret" troops freed Audrius Butkevicius about noon on orders from authorities in Moscow. His driver remained in detention and his car impounded.Lithuania's Moscow-appointed prosecutor-general, Antas Petrauskas, had wanted to pursue an investigation against Butkevicius on charges of illegally holding a weapon, the official said.

"But Petrauskas was told by Moscow to release him," she added.

Butkevicius told a news conference in Vilnius that OMON officers had put handcuffs on him, searched his car and filmed the entire sequence of events.

They had found several flares in the vehicle and a pistol on his driver, he said. He had been questioned at length at OMON headquarters but was not hurt or threatened.

Lithuanian Deputy Interior Minister Petras Liubartas told journalists the seizure of Butkevicius "was all a misunderstanding."

Vytautas Landsbergis, president of Lithuania and architect of its drive for independence, had earlier described the incident as "an attack by hostile forces and an attempt to exert pressure."