The Armenian police have discarded some of the riot equipment and ammunition used in deadly clashes opposition protesters that followed the 2008 presidential election, a senior police official said late Thursday.
Artur Osikian, a deputy chief of the national police service, made the revelation as he testified before the Armenian parliament’s committee on legal affairs. He did not specify which weapons have been removed from the police arsenal of “special means” for crowd control since the March 2008 violence in Yerevan.
Two police personnel and eight civilians died after security forces tried to disperse thousands of opposition supporters that barricaded themselves in the city center. The police and state prosecutors say three of the opposition protesters were killed by teargas capsules ineptly fired from a very short distance. They claim that only four security officers used the Soviet-made Cheremukha-7 capsules and that they are unable determine which of them caused those deaths.
Law-enforcement authorities launched a criminal investigation into the apparent misuse of teargas last summer at the request of an ah hoc parliamentary commission that conducted a separate inquiry into the unrest. The pro-government chairman of the commission, Samvel Nikoyan, also suggested earlier in 2009 that the Cheremukha-7 grenades were outdated. No police officer has faced corresponding criminal charges yet.
In a letter to a Council of Europe body publicized last week, the Armenian government said security forces have also used stun grenades, water cannons and rubber bullets against opposition protesters. It made no mention of live rounds which are believed to have caused the five other civilian deaths on March 1-2 2008. The investigators have shed little light on the circumstances of those deaths so far.
In his testimony, Osikian outlined “reforms” which the Armenian police plan to implement with the stated aim of preventing a repeat of the country’s worst street violence. He said some police officers have already undergone training courses designed to improve their handling of street protests.
The Armenian authorities have pledged to carry out these and other reforms necessitated by the 2008 unrest in a bid to placate the Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly (PACE) and other international bodies. The chairman of the parliament committee, David Harutiunian, presented a reform timetable at a recent meeting in Paris of the PACE’s Monitoring Committee.
“We welcome the wide range of reforms announced in the preliminary response of the authorities to our recommendation, but we would also like to stress that, in the end, it will be the content of these reforms, and their implementation, that counts,” John Prescott and Georges Colombier, the two committee rapporteurs on Armenia, said in a joint statement issued on Thursday.