Six American Students in Latvia Evacuated in Wake of Crackdown
The Soviet Union's crackdown on the secessionist Baltic republics has prompted the evacuation of six American high-school students from the outskirts of the Latvian capital of Riga and the cancellation of several exchanges to that region.
But most exchange-program officials interviewed last week said they had been aware of tensions in the Baltic republics weeks or months before the violence this month and had planned accordingly. Few exchanges with other regions of the Soviet Union, they said, have been affected.
Soviet paratroopers stormed a television facility in the Lithuanian capital of Vilnius on Jan. 13, resulting in the deaths of at least 13 civilians. At least four civilians were killed in Riga a week later when security troops seized the Interior Ministry.
The U.S. State Department on Jan. 13 issued an advisory against nonessential travel to Lithuania, Estonia, and Latvia, saying there appears to be no threat to Americans in those republics but that they should avoid crowds and areas of unrest.
The Bush Administration also threatened to curb certain programs with the Soviet Union in protest over the events in the Baltics, but last week had not specifically mentioned student exchanges as among the programs likely to be affected.
Scott D. Ramey, a spokesman for afs Intercultural Programs in New York, last week said his organization was moving six American high-school students living on the outskirts of Riga for a year to other regions of the Soviet Union to ensure they would be safe and that they would benefit from their program.
Citing the traditional protectiveness of Soviet families toward children and guests, Mr. Ramey said the students have been safe and probably would have remained so at their Latvian guest homes. But, he added, "if schools would be closed for any length of time during the unrest, or the students can't go out of the apartments for security reasons, then they are not going to have the kind of experience that afs wishes to impart [to] its participants."
Among other developments:
The School Partnerships International program of the National Association of Secondary School Principals had intended to send 13 students from Sam Houston High School in Arlington, Tex., to Riga in February but changed its plans after the State Department travel advisory was issued. Soviet officials have offered the students a new host school, Moscow 17, but no decision on the offer had been made as of last week.
People to People Student Programs in Spokane, Wash., last week was in the process of changing plans to send 300 high-school students to the Baltics this summer, according to Emanuele F. Portolese, the organization's executive director.
Lynn E. Stern, program coordinator for the Citizen Exchange Council in New York, said her organization cancelled plans to send high-school students to Vilnius after tensions there made it difficult for a group of Lithuanian students to travel to the United States last May.
Monica McDermott, admissions representative for the Soviet program of the American Council for International Studies in Boston, said the Soviet travel bureau a year ago warned of tensions in the Baltics and successfully urged her organization to reroute a two-week tour by 25 American students and their chaperones from the Baltics to other republics.