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Honecker Haunts Germans Even After Unity

October 12, 1990

BERLIN (AP) _ Like an old ghost in a new house, Erich Honecker is haunting the reunited Germans.

Toppled from power a year ago, the 78-year-old former Communist chief is confined to a Soviet military hospital near Berlin, guarded by stone-faced soldiers.

His health is the topic of nearly daily news reports, some saying the ousted East German leader, who is suffering from kidney cancer, is well enough to be imprisoned and others saying he is not.

As Germans forge their new country, many are demanding punishment for despised members of the East Berlin regime that ran the country into the ground. Honecker tops the list.

″I think most Germans would like to see Honecker go before a court,″ said a spokeswoman for Berlin’s justice department, Jutta Burghart.

Prosecutors have had plenty of opportunity to bring Honecker to trial, having conducted investigations of deadly shootings at the Berlin Wall, economic crimes and the harboring of terrorists during his government.

Berlin’s chief justice, Jutta Limbach, hopes to decide ″within a few weeks″ whether there is enough evidence to arrest the small, slight man with steely eyes and a ramrod-straight posture.

Even if the answer is yes, doctors will have to decide whether Honecker is well enough to stand the rigors of Germany’s customary pre-trial detention.

Any resulting indictment, trial and appeal could take years.

All of this will keep Honecker’s despised legacy alive almost indefinitely.

On Thursday, prosecutors in formerly Communist East Berlin handed their western counterparts the files from the investigations of Honecker and his cohorts.

The Honecker files alone take up about 400 thick spiral ring binders and a ″series of supplementary documents,″ officials said.

Their work has been hampered by the disarray of the documents.

While Berlin officials look into the notorious shoot-to-kill orders and economic crimes, a local prosecutor in the southwestern city of Karlsruhe is pursuing his own investigation.

Gerhard Klass has accused Honecker of obstruction of justice for giving a safe haven to West Germany’s most notorious terrorists.

Germans are still furious that Honecker welcomed members of the leftist Red Army Faction, and reportedly provided homes to Middle East terrorists as well.

There is a good chance the two criminal investigations will be merged.

Doctors in the former East Germany say Honecker can’t stand the rigors of prison. He spent one night in a crumbling, filthy jail last January.

Officials in the now-extinct country said it would have been an ″injustice″ to put the aging ex-dictator on trial during East Germany’s brief existence as a democracy.

But those determinations will be reviewed by the new panels of legal and medical experts.

Honecker’s 82-year-old former secret police chief, Erich Mielke, is already in prison and targeted for the same Berlin investigation aimed at his boss.

A full color photo spread in this week’s Stern magazine documented the ailing Mielke’s ambulance ride from an East Berlin jail to one in the west.

Will Honecker ever stand before a judge, ready to defend his 18 hard-line years in power or his masterminding of the Berlin Wall construction in 1961?

″That will depend on the people who make the decision on his health condition,″ prosecutor Klass said.

Germany’s news media have been following every twist and turn in the case.

Two days before the Oct. 3 unification, the mass-circulation Bild newspaper ran a front-page picture of Honecker walking jauntily and unaided near the Soviet hospital in Beelitz.

Bild’s blaring headline: ″Honecker - Really too Sick for the Clink?″

One open question is the ability of Germans to get their hands on Honecker anytime soon, since he is in a Soviet compound.

Prosecutor Klass jokingly says the Soviets could complicate things by declaring Honecker an ″honorary colonel″ in the Red Army, in an attempt to put him beyond the reach of German law.

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