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Italian Court Convicts ex-Nazis

An Italian court condemned almost a dozen former Nazi soldiers to life in prison Wednesday for one of Italy's worst wartime massacres in a trial that has provoked strong emotions in Italy.

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Interior Minister Otto Schily at a ceremony last year in Sant'Anna

An Italian military tribunal on Wednesday condemned 10 former Nazi German soldiers, now in their 80s and tried in abstentia, to life in prison for the wartime massacre of 560 civilians in an Italian village in Tuscany.

The court also ordered the 10 to pay damages as well as court costs.

The ex-Nazis were accused of murdering 560 people in the Tuscan mountain village of Sant'Anna di Stazzema near Lucca on August 12, 1944, a few days after the liberation of Florence by British troops.

The tribunal, which delivered its verdict after about seven hours of deliberations, complied with a prosecution request in condemning the 10 to life imprisonment. Marco De Paolis called for the military court in the northwestern Italian port city of La Spezia to jail the 10 for life in a hearing followed emotionally by survivors.

Italy wanted to avoid hunting Nazis

Evidence about the massacre remained buried for nearly half a century, a victim of successive Rome governments' reluctance to pursue former Nazis for wartime atrocities, mainly to avoid diplomatic repercussions with West Germany in the post-war period.

Many believe successive post-war governments wanted to avoid hunting Nazis for war crimes because they would also have to delve uncomfortably into the excesses of Fascist dictator Benito Mussolini, particularly his treatment of Italian Jews.

The case came to light only in 1994 after prosecutors stumbled across witness statements given to Allied soldiers investigating the massacre.

Defense lawyers argued that soldiers had to carry out orders or face death.

But prosecutors said that was irrelevant. "It was premeditated," said prosecutor Marco De Paolis to the court. "Obedience can not be blind."

The Germans are unlikely to serve any jail time, since Germany generally does not extradite its citizens.

Lastest Nazi case

It is just the latest case that raises the legacy of World War II in Italy.

In December, an Italian military court has acquitted a former Nazi officer charged over the 1944 massacre of 60 people in an Italian monastery where German troops found Jews hiding, a judicial source said.

Hermann Langer, 85, was tried in absentia by the court in the northwestern town of Spezia.

The former SS lieutenant was found not guilty on Friday of leading a group of soldiers who carried out the massacre on September 2, 1944, after they found Jews hiding in Farneta

Cistercian monastery near the town of Lucca.

A Venezuelan bishop and several monks were among those killed, who included Swiss, German, French and Spanish nationals.

Prosecutors had called for a life sentence in the case which opened in July.

"Weight on my conscience"

And in October, Klaus Konrad, a former politician from the German Social Democrat Party, took part in the torture and massacre of civilians while serving in the Nazi forces retreating from Italy in 1944, according to television and press reports.

In a documentary screened by the public TV service ARD, Konrad, who is now 89, admitted that he had witnessed the torture and killing of Italians in July 1944 at San Polo, in the

northern region of Tuscany.

In an interview with the daily Corriere della Sera newspaper, Konrad however pleaded that he was only following orders, but admitted that "I have always felt a weight on my conscience" over the incidents.

ARD said at least 48 people were believed to have been massacred by the German forces, which were retreating from Italy in the face of the Allied advance from the south. Sixteen of those killed were believed to have been buried alive, the programme said.

It also said that a German inquiry into the massacre, which was shelved in 1972, could be reopened.

A military prosecutor in the northern Italian city of La Spezia had examined documents relating to the accusations, and Konrad could face charges as a result, the TV programme said.

Konrad, who was an army lieutenant in 1944, went on to have a career as a member of parliament for the Social Democrats. He is the last surviving member of the 274th Germany infantry regiment that carried out the massacre.

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