Top generals facing the music at last

Berlin Wall deaths: Former East German military men in the dock over shoot-to-kill policy

Eight former East German generals went on trial yesterday in connection with the death of hundreds of East Germans trying to escape to the West. It is the latest in a series of cases against those involved in the "shoot- to-kill" policy of the Berlin Wall, but is the first involving senior military figures.

More than 30 previous trials have been directed against former border guards who fired the fatal shots. Attempts to bring the country's former Communist leaders to trial, however, have been largely unsuccessful owing to the age and ill-health of those accused.

Yesterday's proceedings got off to a slow start when defence lawyers, claiming the Berlin court was not competent, succeeded in getting the trial adjourned for a week. A small group of diehard Communists turned up to applaud the defence's opening remarks, including Egon Krenz, who succeeded Erich Honecker as leader when the East German state began crumbling in the autumn of 1989. Mr Krenz smiled and gave a clenched-fist salute of defiance.

Among those in the dock are Helmet Borufka and Heinz Handke, former heads of the armed forces, and Wolfgang Reinhold, a former head of the air force. The others include several deputy defence ministers. All eight are charged with complicity in manslaughter and attempted manslaughter.

As members of East Germany's defence ministry, they are accused of having endorsed orders issued by the National Defence Council which specified that "border violators are to be destroyed".

About 825 people died during attempts to cross the Berlin Wall or the former border between East and West Germany.

The last of the killings took place in February 1989, only nine months before the Berlin Wall fell.

The accused, aged between 61 and 85, claim they only had an advisory role, were in no position to counter National Security Council orders, and could only rubber-stamp them.

Like the trials of some of East Germany's former political leaders, the proceedings are expected to be long and fraught with legal complexity.

On account of the age and ill- health of the defendants, the maximum duration of the court sittings has been set at three hours.

Berlin's state prosecutors are nevertheless determined to press charges against all those they believe were behind the shoot-to-kill policy, at whatever level. The bulk of the trials that have been held so far have been against the border guards who actually pulled the triggers. They have argued that they were only obeying orders and have mostly received suspended or very light sentences.

Sensitive to criticism that they were focusing too much attention on the "little men", the city's justice authorities in late 1992 brought charges against six former members of the National Security Council, including Honecker, and the ex-chief of the Stasi secret police, Erich Mielke.

However, the attempt to nail the regime's most successful figures met only with partial success. The proceedings against three of the accused - including Honecker, now dead - had to be dropped on the grounds of ill-health.

The remaining three, the most senior of whom was Heinz Kessler, a former defence minister, were sentenced to between four-and-a-half and seven- and-a-half years in jail.

Suggested Topics
Voices
A Russian hunter at the Medved bear-hunting lodge in Siberia
Save the tigerWildlife charities turn to those who kill animals to help save them
News
Davis says: 'My career has been about filling a niche - there were fewer short actors and fewer roles – but now I'm being offered all kinds of things'
PeopleWarwick Davis on Ricky Gervais, Harry Potter and his perfect role
News
i100
Sport
Frank Lampard will pass Billy Wright and equal Bobby Charton’s caps tally of 106 caps against
sportFormer Chelsea midfielder in Etihad stopgap before New York contract
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Arts and Entertainment
The first film introduced Daniel Radcliffe to our screens, pictured here as he prepares to board the train to Hogwarts for the first time.
booksHow reading Harry Potter helps children grow up to be gay-friendly
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from Aladdin is performed at the Tony Awards in New York in June
theatreBrit producer Lythgoe makes kids' musical comedy a Los Angeles hit
Sport
Usain Bolt of Jamaica smiles and shakes hands with a competitor after Jamaica won their first heat in the men's 4x100m relay
sport
News
Chancellor George Osborne, along with the Prime Minister, have been 'complacently claiming the economy is now fixed', according to shadow Chancellor Ed Balls
i100... which is awkward, because he is their boss, after all
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

(Senior) IT Support Engineer - 1st-3rd Line Support

£40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A successful IT service provider that has bee...

Wind Farm Civil Design Engineer

£55000 - £65000 Per Annum: The Green Recruitment Company: The Green Recruitmen...

Principal Marine Mechanical Engineer

£60000 - £70000 Per Annum: The Green Recruitment Company: The Green Recruitmen...

Principle Geotechnical Engineer

£55000 - £65000 Per Annum: The Green Recruitment Company: The Green Recruitmen...

Day In a Page

Save the Tiger: Meet the hunters tasked with protecting Russia's rare Amur tiger

Hunters protect Russia's rare Amur tiger

In an unusual move, wildlife charities have enlisted those who kill animals to help save them. Oliver Poole travels to Siberia to investigate
Transfers: How has your club fared in summer sales?

How has your club fared in summer sales?

Who have bagged the bargain buys and who have landed the giant turkeys
Warwick Davis: The British actor on Ricky Gervais, how the Harry Potter set became his office, and why he'd like to play a spy

'I'm a realist; I know how hard this business is'

Warwick Davis on Ricky Gervais, Harry Potter and his perfect role
The best swim shorts for men: Bag yourself the perfect pair and make a splash this summer

The best swim shorts for men

Bag yourself the perfect pair and make a splash this summer
Has Ukip’s Glastonbury branch really been possessed by the devil?

Has Ukip’s Glastonbury branch really been possessed by the devil?

Meet the couple blamed for bringing Lucifer into local politics
Dress the Gaza situation up all you like, but the truth hurts

Robert Fisk on Gaza conflict

Dress the situation up all you like, but the truth hurts
Save the tiger: Tiger, tiger burning less brightly as numbers plummet

Tiger, tiger burning less brightly

When William Blake wrote his famous poem there were probably more than 100,000 tigers in the wild. These days they probably number around 3,200
5 News's Andy Bell retraces his grandfather's steps on the First World War battlefields

In grandfather's footsteps

5 News's political editor Andy Bell only knows his grandfather from the compelling diary he kept during WWI. But when he returned to the killing fields where Edwin Vaughan suffered so much, his ancestor came to life
Lifestyle guru Martha Stewart reveals she has flying robot ... to take photos of her farm

Martha Stewart has flying robot

The lifestyle guru used the drone to get a bird's eye view her 153-acre farm in Bedford, New York
Former Labour minister Meg Hillier has demanded 'pootling lanes' for women cyclists

Do women cyclists need 'pootling lanes'?

Simon Usborne (who's more of a hurtler) explains why winning the space race is key to happy riding
A tale of two presidents: George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story

A tale of two presidents

George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story
Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover

The dining car makes a comeback

Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover
Gallery rage: How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?

Gallery rage

How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?
Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players

Eye on the prize

Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players
Women's rugby: Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup

Women's rugby

Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup