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Romania charges ex-chief of Communist prison with genocide

Romanian prosecutors have charged the former commander of a Communist labor camp with genocide. Ion Ficior is accused of playing a decisive role in the deaths of more than 100 political prisoners.

The general prosecutor's office said on Thursday that Ficior had introduced and "coordinated a repressive detention regime" between 1958 and 1963, when he was in command of the camp.

Investigators said the regime, which was described as "abusive and inhuman," had been aimed at exterminating political prisoners through harsh working conditions, extreme cold and a lack of such basic necessities as food, water and medicine.

A total of 103 prisoners are said to have died during Ficior's time in charge of the Periprava labor camp, situated by a remote village on the Danube delta, which held up to 2,000 prisoners.

Investigators looking into Communist-era crimes called on prosecutors to bring charges against Ficior in September. The request was part of a wider campaign aimed at bringing to justice 35 former prison commanders.

The same month, the investigating team found five skeletons in unmarked graves, without coffins, clothes or personal belongings, near to Periprava.

Second genocide case

Another former prison chief, 88-year-old Alexandru Visinescu, was charged with genocide in September.

It is not expected that either man will be jailed, being too old to be imprisoned under Romanian law.

Some 600,000 people were sentenced and jailed for political reasons between 1945 and 1989 in Romania.

Ficior, who declined to speak to reporters after he was charged, has previously disputed the number of people who died during his time in charge, claiming that only three or four people died while he was a commander.

The charge of genocide could be difficult to prosecute effectively, according to some experts. The United Nations defines genocide as an "act committed with intent to destroy in whole or in part, a national, ethnic, racial or religious group." The wording does not mention political groups.

rc/ph (AFP, AP)