YEREVAN (RFE/RL) — The armed members of an opposition group holed up in a police station Yerevan may well avoid imprisonment if they surrender to law-enforcement authorities, Armenia’s National Security Service (NSS) said on Monday
“In case of the existence of conditions defined by Armenian legislation, individuals voluntarily backing away from a crime can be exempted from criminal liability,” the NSS said as its standoff with the gunmen entered into a second week.
“In this regard, the militants were handed on July 25 written clarifications and explanations on the sequence of actions which must be taken by them and the route for their surrender,” it added in a statement.
The NSS note delivered to the gunmen was publicized by the Armenian police. It lists articles of the Armenian Criminal Code that allow individuals taking hostages or seizing government buildings to avoid prosecution.
“You still have time to lay down your arms and surrender,” says the document.
The NSS did not specify whether the authorities would also not prosecute anyone in connection with the killing of a senior police officer carried out during the July 17 attack on the police station. A leader of the gunmen has claimed that Colonel Artur Vanoyan was shot dead “by accident.”
The NSS said at the same time that it is seeking to resume negotiations with the armed members of the Founding Parliament opposition movement which were mediated until this weekend by Vitaly Balasanian, a Nagorno-Karabakh politician.
The talks resulted in the release on Saturday of four police officers held hostage by the attackers. The latter refused to negotiate with Balasanian after he claimed that Founding Parliament’s arrested leader, Jirayr Sefilian, no longer demands President Serzh Sarkisian’s resignation.
The authorities appeared to have stepped up pressure on the gunmen following the release of the gunmen, reportedly halting food and electricity supplies to them and blocking access to their mobile phones. As a result, the standoff escalated on the night from Sunday to Monday, with the gunmen setting fire to a police van commandeered by them. A military helicopter briefly hovered over the seized police premises early in the morning.
Alek Yenigomshian, a Founding Parliament figure, said the vehicle was burned down in protest against the blockade imposed by the authorities. He said that the authorities have also stopped providing medical assistance to one of the gunmen wounded during the July 17 assault.
The NSS statement insisted, however, that the authorities offered to hospitalize the man but were rebuffed by the armed group. The security agency also said it has arrested several more individuals suspected of aiding the gunmen. It did not name any of them or specify the total number of people detained in connection with the armed attack.
Speaking to journalists on Monday morning, Yenigomshian accused the authorities of deliberately heightening tensions. “Serious developments may occur at any moment,” he warned. “We hope that prudence will prevail within the ruling regime.”
Yenigomshian is one of several members of an opposition “coordinating council” holding daily demonstrations in support of what Founding Parliament calls an anti-government “rebellion.”
In a statement, the council gave President Sarkisian until 8 p.m. to ensure renewed food and power supplies to the gunmen. It also urged supporters to rally at that time to discuss “our further steps.”