More than 4,000 East German refugees in West German embassies in Czechoslovakia and Poland began leaving the grounds of the missions late Saturday after a surprise agreement was reached to allow them to go by train to West Germany.
In a dramatic announcement, the official East German news agency ADN reported earlier Saturday that the Communist regime in East Berlin had agreed to "expel" the refugees aboard special rail coaches that will carry them to the West through East Germany.
West German officials in Hof, a town in Bavaria near the East German border, said that the first trainload of incoming refugees is expected about 4 a.m. today.
Will Go to Reception Centers
The refugees will taken to reception centers in West Germany, officials said, as have thousands of East Germans fleeing westward by way of Hungary in recent weeks.
Saturday's developments temporarily allayed the political crisis that involved West Germany, East Germany, Czechoslovakia and Poland over the fate of East German refugees who had sought refuge in the embassies' grounds.
The agreement was revealed after West German Foreign Minister Hans-Dietrich Genscher--after talks in Bonn with a senior East German official, Horst Neubauer--unexpectedly flew to Prague, the Czechoslovak capital, where he drove directly to the West German Embassy.
There he spoke from a balcony, telling a cheering group of the estimated 3,500 East Germans camped out in the embassy compound that they would be allowed to go to West Germany.
'Welcome to Germany'
"I came to tell you that you can leave," declared Genscher, who himself is from Halle in East Germany. "Welcome to Germany."
He said the arrangements worked out with Communist regimes on the refugees was the "biggest success in my political career."
At the same time, West German officials said that about 650 East Germans sheltered in the Warsaw Embassy and at a Roman Catholic hostel in the Polish capital would also leave by train for the Federal Republic.
Genscher's statement was greeted with cries of "Freedom! Freedom!" Many of the East Germans wept openly and embraced one another at the handsome, baroque embassy complex in the heart of the capital.
They had been living under tents in rudimentary conditions, worsened by cold rains and a mass of mud--and by the soaring number of incoming refugees.
"We made it; we made it," the refugees called to journalists outside the embassy's spiked fence.
"I would never have believed this," said one young man with his son on his shoulders.
Genscher told the East Germans that the first train to West Germany would leave at 8 p.m. local time. He was off by half an hour. The first train, pulled by an East German locomotive, left Prague's Liben station at 8:30 with about 400 East Germans aboard, some laughing, some singing and some seemingly dazed by the sudden turn of events.
In an effort to legalize the departure of the refugees, East German officials would issue exit visas about the trains while en route to West Germany.
Genscher said he had discussed the refugee crisis at the United Nations in New York last week with the foreign ministers of Czechoslovakia, Poland, East Germany and the Soviet Union. But he declined to give details of the talks.
"We agreed on complete discretion," he said.
In East Berlin, the news agency ADN reported: "In an effort to end the untenable situation in the West German embassies in Prague and Warsaw, the East German government has arranged to expel to West Germany the East Germans illegally staying in these embassies by train through East German territory."
Czechoslovakia has a common border with West Germany, but Poland does not.
The rail transit through East Germany was viewed by political observers in Bonn as a face-saving device by which the East Berlin regime could claim it was expelling the refugees from its own territory, rather than watching them flee through other Communist countries.
Czechoslovakia, like Hungary, has an accord with East Germany, agreeing not to let East Germans cross its territory to the West without proper credentials issued by East Berlin.
On Sept. 10, the Hungarian government decided to suspend the pact in order to allow thousands of East Germans in refugee camps there to depart for West Germany without exit visas.
That action angered the East Berlin government, but the Communist government in Budapest evidently believed it had more to gain from Western countries by its humanitarian actions than it lost in breaking Communist solidarity with East Germany.
Since then, about 25,000 East Germans have streamed across the Hungarian border into Austria and then West Germany. The Bonn government recognizes all Germans, East or West, as its citizens.
Poland and Czechoslovakia, friends of East Berlin, nevertheless wish to maintain cordial relations with West Germany for trade and economic reasons.
The East Berlin ADN report said that East German Foreign Ministry spokesman Wolfgang Meyer declared that the Communist regime had complied with West German requests to allow the refugees to leave, after consulting the governments in Prague and Warsaw.
The refugee crisis has deeply upset East Germany, which is planning a large celebration on Saturday to observe the 40th anniversary of the creation of the state. Soviet President Mikhail S. Gorbachev heads the Communist guest list.
The East Berlin regime has been hoping to brighten up its image, damaged by the flight of about 100,000 East Germans, authorized and unauthorized, this year.
Spokesman Meyer said he hopes that the joint gesture by East Germany, Czechoslovakia, and Poland would ensure that conditions would return to normal at West German diplomatic missions in all three countries.
Bonn's embassies in Prague and Warsaw and its mission in East Berlin have been closed to the public for weeks because of the influx of would-be emigrants.
In Bonn, government sources indicated that part of the deal struck with Czechoslovakia and Poland would be that the Saturday night train ride to the West would be limited to those East Germans already in embassy grounds.
The Communist governments do not want to deal with the problem again, these sources indicated, but it was not clear how they would keep East Germans from entering West German missions unless police guards are posted.