Soviet soldiers, who first arrived 21 years ago to crush political reforms, began a partial pullout Saturday that generated little apparent enthusiasm among the country's communist leaders.
State-run media noted tersely that a Soviet battalion stationed in the north Moravian city of Olomouc, close to the border with Poland, left for home early Saturday.Local Communist Party officials bade the departing 6.5-mile column farewell in a short ceremony, the reports said. It was not known how many troops left Saturday.
The little attention given to the departure contrasted markedly with the treatment given the Soviet pullout from neighboring Hungary. In an opposition march through Budapest in March, some 100,000 people called for a complete withdrawal of Soviet troops and greater independence from Moscow.
The withdrawals come as part of a pullout of 50,000 Soviet troops and 5,000 tanks from East Germany, Hungary and Czechoslovakia announced by Soviet President Mikhail S. Gorbachev in December.
Overall, the Red Army is to withdraw half a million men over the next two years in a unilateral reduction seen by Western analysts as directed at aiding new talks in Vienna on reducing conventional forces in Europe.
The estimated 80,000 Soviet troops in Czechoslovakia began entering the country on Aug. 20, 1968 in a Warsaw Pact invasion that crushed reforms ushered in by then-Communist Party leader Alexander Dubcek.
The invasion led eventually to Dubcek's ouster and the expulsion of almost half a million communists from Czechoslovakia's ruling party.
Under the current withdrawal, 5,300 Soviet troops, 708 tanks and 20 planes are to leave for the Soviet Union. Only four battalions - some 1,500 men - will depart this year, according to figures given in February by Czechoslovak chief of staff Gen. Miroslav Vacek.
The partial Soviet pullout began in Hungary last month with the departure of 31 T-64 tanks.