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Four former East German generals convicted in border deaths

May 30, 1997

BERLIN (AP) _ Four former East German generals were convicted Friday of helping cause the deaths of citizens fleeing to the West because of their roles in setting the shoot-to-kill policy at the Berlin Wall and West German border.

Judge Ralph Ehestaedt said that by fortifying the border with the West and giving border guards shoot-to-kill orders, the defendants ``accepted the deaths of dissidents.″

The highest ranking of the defendants, former Deputy Defense Minister Joachim Goldbach, denounced the verdict as ``victors’ justice″ brought by a unified Germany against officials of the former East German state.

``We have been treated as enemies,″ Goldbach said.

Ehestaedt vigorously denied accusations that the convictions on charges of manslaughter and attempted manslaughter were a foregone conclusion, saying the verdict was ``completely open″ while the evidence was presented.

Although the defendants’ actions were accepted under the East German system, Ehestaedt said they were not absolved of individual responsibility.

The judge said defendants were found liable for eight deaths and four maimings caused by border shootings between 1979-88 because of their policy-making responsibilities within the Defense Ministry.

Ehestaedt sentenced Goldbach, 67, and and former Gen. Harald Ludwig, 66, to three years and three months in jail. Heinz Handke, 70, received two years and 10 months and Fritz Peter, 69, had his sentence of one year, 10 months suspended.

The trial opened in 1995 against eight generals, but four were excused for illness.

In earlier trials, three members of the East German defense council and six border commanders, including East German Defense Minister Heinz Kessler, were convicted on charges relating to deaths of people trying to flee East Germany.

During the communist state’s 41-year existence, more than 500 people were killed trying to breach the border.

Despite legal challenges that a unified Germany has no jurisdiction to prosecute officials of another state, the convictions have been upheld by the German Constitutional Court, the highest in the land.

Trial is under way against five other East German border officers in another Berlin court.

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