Sunday, September 26, 2004

RFE/RL Armenia Report - 09/23/2004

Military Police Presence At Opposition Rallies Confirmed

By Hrach Melkumian

A senior Defense Ministry official on Thursday confirmed press reports and witness accounts about the presence of Armenian military police at a series of anti-government protests staged by the opposition last spring.

Sedrak Sedrakian, who heads the ministry's legal department, admitted that military police officers were among security forces that scuttled the opposition efforts to force President Robert Kocharian into resignation.

Under Armenian law the military police is only supposed to investigate crimes and minor offences committed within the country's armed forces. Military police officers were reportedly involved in the extremely violent dispersal of an opposition demonstration near Kocharian's official residence on the night from April 12-13.

Sedrakian insisted that representatives of the feared agency had the right to get involved in the government crackdown on the opposition. `They are obliged to protect the life and the health of servicemen against criminal challenges,' he said. `They are obliged to protect the interests of servicemen.'

The official did not specify just how the campaign of unsanctioned opposition protests in downtown Yerevan, which was branded as a coup attempt by the authorities, threatened the Armenian military. `Frankly, I can not give a more clear explanation,' he told reporters.

Sedrakian was speaking at a news briefing following the approval by Armenia's cabinet of ministers of a new draft law on military police. The legislation envisages no major changes in the existing status and responsibilities of the force subordinated to the Defense Ministry. Its commander will continue to be appointed by the president of the republic.

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