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Former East German Defense Minister Begins Jail Sentence

November 26, 1996

BERLIN (AP) _ A former East German defense minister and his top aide began serving jail sentences Tuesday for their roles in the deaths of freedom-seekers crossing the Berlin Wall or the West German border.

Former defense minister Heinz Kessler and Fritz Streletz were convicted in September 1993 of incitement to commit manslaughter. The two, who were sentenced to 7 1/2 and 5 1/2 year sentences respectively, had remained free pending appeals.

They lost their last appeal Nov. 12, when Germany’s Constitutional Court ruled that the shoot-to-kill orders that led to the killings of more than 500 people during East Germany’s 41-year existence violated basic human rights, and thus were punishable under united Germany’s laws.

The two men reported voluntarily to Berlin’s Hakenfelde Prison early Tuesday _ a day early, said Corinna Bischoff, a city Justice Department spokeswoman.

A third man convicted with them, communist party boss Hans Albrecht, has until Wednesday to turn himself in. He has asked for a postponement due to illness, Bischoff said Tuesday.

East German leader Erich Honecker and two other elderly defendants had been excused from the trial because of ill health. Honecker died in 1994.

Since German unification in October 1990, Berlin prosecutors have investigated 19,979 cases involving alleged misdeeds in former East Germany, ranging from border killings to illegal profiteering during unification.

Of those, charges have been brought in 367 cases, Bischoff said. Another 14,415 cases were dropped for reasons such as lack of evidence, and 5,197 remained open as of Sept. 30.

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