A Soviet soldier based in East Germany who may have been trying to escape to the West was captured by East German police today after a high-speed auto chase and unprecedented shoot-out in the middle of East Berlin's busiest intersection.
[Some reports from East Berlin indicated that there may have been a second soldier in the van.]
The soldier, according to eyewitness accounts reported from East Berlin by western news agencies, was driving at high speed down East Berlin's main Unter Den Linden boulevard in a small van that had apparently been stolen.
He was chased by two East German police cars, jumped a red light, crashed into another traffic light and then camt out of the van firing machine gun.
Four passersby were injured, including a West German diplomat who was sitting in his volkswagen waiting for the light to change.
Allied sources here said there have been isolated incidents in the past that have been kept quiet when a few Soviet soldiers have tried to flee the West from their units in East Germany. But no one could recall an episode as blatant or where a Soviet soldier was prepared to shoot his way out, if that in fact was what he was trying to do.
The van was heading west toward the Brandenburg gate that leads to the western half of the divided city of Berlin. But there has not been a gate there since 1961 when the Communist government built a wall round West Berlin and sealed in East Berliners, so it not clear how the soldier could have escaped that way,
On the other hand, the famous Allied Checkpoint Charlie is also near the intersection where the incident took place.
The Soviets have 22 divisions based in East Germany with more than 200,000 soldiers.
The official East German news agency, reporting the event about five hours after it took place, said the soldier was "mentally disturbed."
The incident quickly follows a week in which four East Germans escaped through the wall.
On Saturday, an armed East German border guard slipped through a doorway in the wall into West Berlin. The previous Sunday, a 20-year-old East German soldier came across carrying his Kalashnikov submachine gun with him. Two East German civilians, bakery workers from the city of Magdeburg, reached the West Tuesday night by drugging a Belgian diplomat in East Berlin, stealin his car and credentials, and driving through a little used crossing point.