Honecker Defends Border Guards, Says Shootings Were Part of Their Duty
BERLIN (AP) _ Former East German leader Erich Honecker has defended border guards who shot people trying to escape to the West during his 18 years in office, saying the guards were just doing their duty.
Honecker, who has been charged with issuing the shoot-to-kill orders, said in an interview Thursday on Germany’s main ARD television network that he would return to Germany only if the government promised not to prosecute him.
″I do not intend to make myself available to the angels of revenge,″ he said, appearing calm and in good spirits in the interview at a Soviet guest house.
Justice Minister Klaus Kinkel rejected that demand, saying the 79-year-old Honecker must be brought to justice for the ″unjust regime″ he led.
Honecker secretly flew to Moscow on March 13, apparently with the aid of the Soviet military. During the interview on German TV, Honecker said he was invited by Soviet President Mikhail S. Gorbachev.
For months after his escape, Honecker shunned publicity. More recently, he and his wife, Margot, have been talking and making front-page news across Germany, where many people view him as the embodiment of all that was wrong with the Communists’ 40-year rule.
Honecker has not admitted ordering that escapees be shot. Berlin prosecutors claim they have shoot-to-kill orders with Honecker’s signature.
More than 200 people died while trying to escape to the West.
Honecker denounced the prosecution of former border guards who gunned down East Germans escaping to West Germany.
″They weren’t doing anything other than faithfully carrying out their duties according to their military oath,″ he said. ″Every state has the right to decide its own internal and external affairs.″
Four former border guards are on trial in Berlin, while investigations are proceeding against dozens of others.
Honecker was ousted from office on Oct. 18, 1989, and his successor Egon Krenz ruled for only six weeks before the downfall of East German communism.