(AFP) – Sep 26, 2008
TALLINN (AFP) — A 44-year-old British tourist is behind bars in Russia after straying over the border from Estonia during a sightseeing trip, Estonian authorities said Friday.
Estonian border guard spokesman Valeri Kiviselg told AFP that the man, whom he identified only as Michael, was detained on September 5 after apparently wandering across an empty reservoir to take a closer look at a striking Orthodox church.
The reservoir lies on the River Narva, which marks the border between Russia and Estonia, and is also the eastern edge of the European Union, which formerly Soviet-ruled Estonia joined in 2004.
"We sincerely believe he had no idea he was crossing the border," Kiviselg said.
A week later, Russian border guards who were investigating Michael's case conducted a joint visit to the area where he had crossed, Kiviselg said.
The Estonians, at least, are convinced by his claim that he strayed across the border by mistake, but the Russian guards confirmed they had launched a criminal investigation, Kiviselg added.
"It was probably very easy for him to get lost. When he reached the Russian side, he saw the Russian border guards coming and got very confused when he understood he had crossed the border, but it was already too late to return," Kiviselg added.
"We are dealing with the case," another Estonian border guard official, Kaisa Pungas, told AFP, declining to give further details.
Staff at the British embassy in Tallinn said they were not immediately aware of the case and that they would be in touch with the British consulate in Saint Petersburg, Russia, which covers the area.
There are only two official border checkpoints between Estonia and Russia in the region, both in the nearby town of Narva.
Individuals who do not use an official checkpoint to cross into Estonia can face fines, but the rules are tougher in Russia, where a criminal investigation is automatic, Kiviselg noted.
"In Russia, violating the border crossing rules can lead to up to six months in prison," he said.
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