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Britain Fights War Criminal Appeal

January 26, 2000

LONDON (AP) _ Government lawyers opposed an appeal from Britain’s first convicted war criminal Wednesday, saying the 57 years that passed between his crimes and his trial did not make the trial unfair.

At an appeal hearing for 78-year-old Anthony Sawoniuk, his lawyers argued that his trial was an abuse of the British court process. A fair hearing on the charges _ that Sawoniuk murdered two Jewish women in Belarus during World War II _ was impossible after so much time, his lawyers said.

But government lawyer Sir John Nutting said the trial judge had been ``well aware″ of the time question and ``kept in the forefront of his directions to the jury the potential problems caused by the passage of time.″

``It is the trial process itself which is designed to regulate and evaluate the weight of the evidence, its strengths and weaknesses,″ Nutting told three appeal judges.

The hearing continues Thursday.

Sawoniuk was the first person tried under Britain’s 1991 War Crimes Act, which permits prosecution on charges alleging crimes committed outside of Britain.

Sawoniuk, now a retired British Rail employee, served in the local police in German-occupied Belarus during World War II. He was convicted of killing a woman who was among at least 15 people mowed down with a submachine gun as they stood naked by a pit in Domachevo, Belarus.

The jury also found him guilty of shooting an unidentified woman _ one of three Jews who were shot in the backs of their heads and pushed into an open grave in December 1942.

He received a life sentence in April for each of the murders.

An estimated 200,000 Jews were killed in Nazi-occupied Belarus during the war.

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