CASERTA, Italy (AP) _ Two former German army officers were convicted in absentia and sentenced to life in prison for ordering the massacre of 22 Italians in World War II.

Wolfgang Lehnigk-Emden and Karl Shuster were convicted Tuesday. A German court had freed Lehnigk-Emden in January after ruling that too much time had passed for him to be indicted.

Most victims in the Oct. 13, 1943, massacre were women and children. They were killed with guns, bayonets and grenades in Caiazzo, a town near Naples, after some residents tried to signal approaching Allied troops.

German prosecutors are appealing the dismissal of the indictment in Germany.

''This sentence has a very important symbolic value and could have consequences on the practical level'' if the appeal is granted, said prosecutor Paolo Albano.

Lehnigk-Emden, a lieutenant at the time of the killings, is believed to be living near Koblenz, Germany. Shuster was a sergeant when the massacre took place. His whereabouts were not known.

U.S. forces apparently misspelled Lehnigk-Emden's name, delaying his prosecution until 1990, when his correct name was found in Italian records.