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East Germany Puts Disarmament Initiative on Display

June 21, 1989

GOERLITZ, East Germany (AP) _ East Germany put its own disarmament initiative on display Wednesday, chopping battle tanks into scrap in a self-proclaimed gesture of goodwill.

East German officials invited Western journalists to tour two military installations where 600 medium-sized tanks are to be dismantled as part of a unilateral decision to reduce the nation’s conventional arsenal.

″This is not an empty show put on for the world’s benefit,″ said Col. Joachim Nicolaus. ″We are holding true to the intention to destroy these weapons, and you are witnesses to the fulfillment of this pledge.″

East Germany in January announced it was reducing its armed forces by 600 tanks, 10,000 troops and 50 combat aircraft. It plans to complete the cuts by next year.

According to East German figures, the country’s armed forces have 3,140 battle tanks.

Nicolaus, who is the commander of the two bases along East Germany’s southeastern border with Poland, said more than 130 tanks had been brought to the site to be scrapped or converted for civilian use.

About 150 of the 36-ton tanks will be modified for use in heavy industry, mainly in the nation’s coal mining operations, said Col. Helmut Erdmann, a military spokesman. He said the remaining 450 Soviet-type T-55A tanks will be destroyed.

Some spare parts and sophisticated equipment will be salvaged, he said.

Reporters saw more than 11 tanks in various stages of demolition at the first base near Charlottenhof.

Huge cranes lifted the tanks’ six-ton turrets from their armored frames, dumping them in neat rows where soldiers stripped them of their inch-thick, anti-radiation interior coating.

Other soldiers removed machine guns while their comrades used acetylene torches to cut 15-foot-long, 100mm gun barrels into small pieces.

At the second installation near the town of Ostritz, soldiers were busy in workshops melting down machine guns and breaking up the thickly armored tank bodies into small chunks. The Ostritz facility finishes the job begun near Charlottenhof.

Piles of metal and other tank parts were scattered across both compounds. Near a jumble of former gun carriages, a sign read: ″Cannon Junk.″

Erdmann said most of the tanks were five to 15 years old.

″We’re not just throwing out ancient clunkers,″ he said. ″These tanks still have a lot of mileage left in them.″

Olaf Windisch, a 19-year-old soldier from the industrial city of Leipzig, said he had mixed emotions about the demolition.

″You put a lot of work in keeping these tanks in combat shape and you develop an affection for them, the same as people get attached to cars,″ said Windisch, wiping perspiration from his brow after removing armor plating from the inside of a gun turret.

″But I grew up in a time of peace and I don’t want to see war. I’m glad we’re getting rid of some weapons.″

Commandant Nicolaus said he had seen some difficult moments among crews selected to consign their tanks to the junk pile.

″I’ve seen tank commanders stroke the sides of their machines with tears in their eyes,″ he said. ″That was their tank and they didn’t want to part with it.″

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