Romanian court jails generals

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ALMOST 10 YEARS after Romania's bloody revolution, two of the country's former Communist generals have been convicted of mass murder and sentenced to 15 years in prison.

Bucharest's Supreme Court found Generals Victor Athanasie Stanculescu and Mihai Chitac guilty of the first degree murder of 72 people, and of wounding a further 253, in the violent uprising against the Stalinist regime of Nicolae Ceausescu. The dictator and his wife, Elena, were executed on Christmas Day 1989.

The three-judge court also ordered the generals to pay damages to relatives of more than pounds 1m. The judges said Stanculescu, who was deputy defence minister, and Chitac, ex-commander of the chemical units, "acted not out of fear of the dictator, Nicolae Ceausescu, but with the sole purpose of maintaining themselves in the centre of power. The oath of loyalty taken by these men had long since lost its value as Ceausescu had abused the people of Romania and loyalty to him was unnecessary." The judges said the pain inflicted on relatives of the dead was incalculable.

They added that the generals realised fully the results of their actions when they ordered police and troops to fire on thousands of people protesting in Timisoara during December 1989. Some of the killings took place in front of the Communist Party headquarters. The court ordered that all financial and business assets of the two generals be held. The sentence may go to appeal.

A third general, Stefan Muse, former chief of the armed forces, was to appear on similar charges but died before he could be brought to court.