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Soviet Missiles Leave Czechoslovakia, East Germany

February 26, 1988

PRAGUE, Czechoslovakia (AP) _ Soviet troops headed home from East Germany and Czechoslovakia taking with them the first nuclear missiles dismantled under the superpower treaty scrapping intermediate-range nuclear weapons.

The Soviet soldiers left two bases in East Germany and one garrison in Czechoslovakia Thursday after a ceremonial send-off highlighted in the communist countries’ state-run media.

Both of Moscow’s allies lauded the pullout of some shorter-range SS-12 missiles as evidence of the Kremlin’s sincere intent on peace.

Czechoslovak radio said the Soviet soldiers loaded missiles on a train Thursday morning at the railway station at Hranice, a garrison town 180 miles southeast of Prague.

Battling driving snow, the Soviets loaded 19 missile launchers onto trains and then attended a ceremony at which they received decorations from the Czechoslovak Ministry of Defense, the radio said.

The Soviet commander of the missile forces said the weapons were to be taken to an unspecified ″liquidation″ site in the Soviet Union. He said they will not be destroyed until Congress ratifies the treaty signed by Mikhail Gorbachev and President Reagan last December in Washington.

″If the agreement is not ratified, the responsible officials will decide about future steps,″ Lt. Col. Vyacheslav Granovsky told the state news agency CTK.

The arms treaty covers nuclear missiles with ranges of between 300 to 3,100 miles. The SS-12 missiles, known in the Warsaw Pact as OTR-22s, have a range of 300 to 600 miles.

Western diplomats expressed skepticism about Thursday’s ceremonies. They said that until the superpower treaty goes into effect there are no formal provisions for verifying how many missiles were withdrawn.

″Until the arms treaty is in place, there is no way of confirming what we are seeing, and what we are being told is actually what it all appears to be,″ said one Western diplomat, who spoke on condition he not be identified further.

In East Germany, Western reporters were invited to bases at Waren and Bischofswerda, where Soviet soldiers were sent off with music, speeches by local officials and gifts of flowers and candy from residents.

Czechoslovak media said about 60 journalists watched the withdrawal from Hranice, but no Western reporters were invited.

Granovsky said that 39 SS-12 missiles and 24 mobile launchers had been deployed in Czechoslovakia after NATO installed Pershing 2 and cruise missiles in Western Europe in 1983. It was the first time such figures were released.

NATO installed its missiles to counteract Soviet SS-20 weapons stationed on Soviet territory.

Czechoslovak television showed film clips of snow-dusted missile launchers being loaded onto rail cars for the ride back to the Soviet Union.

The commander of missile units and artillery, Lt. Gen. Jan Krizan, was quoted as saying that Hranice, a town of about 12,500 people, was the only place where the SS-12s were deployed.

Krizan stressed that Czechoslovakia has no nuclear weapons of its own.

Missiles that had been based in the East German town of Bischofswerda, about 15 miles east of Dresden, also left on a train for the Soviet Union Thursday.

Western reporters saw a train loaded with about 32 containers leave Bischofswerda.

A total of five launchers, eight missiles and four practice missiles were stationed at the East German base, but it was not known how many missiles left Thursday.

At Waren, about 90 miles northwest of Berlin, there were 22 missiles, nine launchers and seven training rockets, according to information released before the superpower treaty was signed.