HEILBRONN, West Germany -- The United States began Thursday to remove from Europe the 108 Pershing-2 medium-range nuclear missiles it agreed to dismantle under the treaty signed by President Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev.
Nine of the $3.8 million missiles were removed from Camp Redleg, a missile site at Heilbronn, about 20 miles north of Stuttgart, operated by the U.S. Army's 56th Field Artillery Command.
The remaining 27 at Heilbronn and the 36 each at two other U.S. bases in West Germany will be removed over a 36-month period, the headquarters of the U.S. European Command said.
'Following baseline inspections of U.S. and Soviet misisle sites in July and August, the removal of the nine Pershing-2 missiles represents the next step in U.S. compliance with the 1988 Intermediate Range Nuclear Forces Treaty,' the headquarters in Stuttgart said.
The 464 cruise missiles deployed in Europe also will be removed under the treaty, which calls for the Soviet Union to remove its SS-20 missiles.
NATO decided in 1979 to deploy the Pershing-2 and cruise missiles in Europe at the urging of Helmut Schmnidt, who was then West German chancellor, to counter the Soviet SS-20 missiles aimed at Western Europe.
All of the 108 Pershings were deployed in West Germany, which also got 96 of the 464 cruises.
West German spokesman Friedhelm Ost hailed Thursday's action as 'an important event in post-war history.'
'For the first time a complete category of weapons is being done away with systematically,' he said in a statement. 'For the Federal Republic of Germany and all citizens this is an important date.'
West German Defense Minister Rupert Scholz said the removal showed the correctness and the success of the government's security policy and of the NATO decision.
Chancellor Helmut Kohl's government accepted the missiles despite the vigorous opposition of the Social Democrats, who took part in nationwide rallies, marches, demonstrations and blockades of U.S. installations. The opposition party repudiated the pro-missile stand taken by Schmidt, a Social Democrat himself.
The nine missiles were removed from the U.S. base in a convoy of nine empty erector launchers driven by soldiers, and 12 trailers carrying motor stages, radars, and guidance and control sections.
The launchers will be destroyed at another U.S. base in West Germany, the army said, and the other equipment will be taken to a another base to be flown to the United States for destruction.
The treaty signed by Reagan and Soviet leader Gorbachev eliminates ground-launched missiles with a range of 300 to 3,400 miles.