The Red Army began its long-awaited pullout from Poland on Tuesday after nearly 47 years of occupation, with 60 soldiers climbing aboard a 20-wagon train carrying missile launchers and trucks.
The pullout began in pouring rain at 11 a.m. at a formerly top-secret Soviet military base and followed a ceremony that included speeches by Soviet and Polish generals and a garrison band playing the Soviet national anthem.The train, carrying members of a missile brigade that is being disbanded, was the first phase of a permanent pullout whose timetable was still a source of contention today between native and long-time occupier.
Soviet troops have been a continuous presence in Poland since 1944, when they pushed back the Germany army, then stayed on to prop up a series of pro-Moscow regimes. The first 1,200 were to leave today.
Soviet regional commander Gen. Viktor Dubynin told assembled troops from the brigade that their presence had been to guarantee "the independence of Poland."
"Our mission has been completed successfully," he added.
At a joint news conference on Monday, Dubynin and a Polish general quarreled over whether both sides had agreed on a withdrawal timetable.
"The decision is unilateral," the Pole, Gen. Zdzislaw Ostrowski, said of the Soviet army's program for pulling out. "And we have not been informed about the details of the withdrawals planned for this year."
Minutes before, Dubynin had claimed the withdrawal plan was "developed jointly" by Poland and the Soviet Union.
During months of tense negotiations, Poland had been demanding that all the approximately 50,000 Soviet troops pull out by the end of this year, as is planned for Hungary and Czechoslovakia.
The Soviets say they will not vacate Poland before the end of 1993.
Dubynin said that the final deadline for the Soviet departure would be agreed by the "political leadership" of their countries.
President Lech Walesa, a key player in the long struggle to throw off the Soviet yoke and restore democracy, is expected to travel to Moscow in May to try to settle the issue in talks with President Mikhail S. Gorbachev.