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Calls for Probe

Article based on news reports (nda)August 13, 2007

After a document resurfaced last week detailing the former East Germany's policy of shoot-to-kill at the Berlin Wall, politicians from all sides have joined ranks to call for a criminal investigation into the practice.

As Berlin remembers the building of the Wall, politicians call for an inquiry into the deadImage: AP

German politicians joined together in outrage Monday over the resurfacing of a document detailing the shoot-to-kill policy of East German border guards during the Cold War and called for a judicial inquiry and criminal investigation.

"This must be investigated further", said Social Democrat leader Kurt Beck. "The whole political system of the GDR is tainted by murder."

Beck's fellow SDP member, Wolfgang Thierse, the vice-president of the lower house of parliament, added that the recently discovered document proving the guards on the Berlin Wall had orders to use lethal force during the Cold War "proves that we are still a long way from understanding the GDR’s history."

Thierse added that he found it absurd and outrageous that former GDR head of state, Egon Krenz, and other surviving East German politicians and officials still denied the shoot-to-kill policy, as if "the border guards murdered people at will and for fun."

The East German regime had long claimed that the killings at the border, which was fortified with concrete, barbed wire and armed guards, were only a "last resort" to stop escapes when other methods such as firing warning shots were exhausted.

A lesson not fully learnt

Galerie Berliner Mauer: Gedenken an Maueropfer
The victims are still mournedImage: AP

Petra Pau of the opposition Left Party called for a full investigation into the document and the policy. "This must be pursued judicially because murder does not come under the statute of limitations," she said.

Ronald Pofalla, the secretary-general of the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) called the document a clear lesson "for all those who would gladly let the cruelty of that regime disappear into the drawers of history forever."

On the 46th anniversary of the start of construction on the despised Berlin Wall, German prosecutors were also considering a full investigation. A spokesperson for the State Prosecutors Office said authorities were weighing "whether further steps are necessary."

As the country on Monday held somber memorial ceremonies it conducts each year on the Wall anniversary, officials said the new discovery made clear that this chapter of German history was not yet closed.

Document describes indiscriminate policy

Galerie Berliner Mauer: Der erste Mauertote
Guards were ordered not to hesitate to shootImage: AP

The controversial document, uncovered last week and published at the weekend, contains clear orders to "stop or liquidate" anyone trying to escape to the West, including children. "Do not hesitate to use your firearm, not even when the border is breached in the company of women and children, which is a tactic the traitors have often used," the key passage, whose author is unknown, wrote.

A spokesman for the Stasi archive acknowledged Sunday that the passage had been printed in a historian's book on East Germany in 1997 but said it had not reached a wider audience.

The discovery also prompted criticism of the federal office overseeing the massive archive of files left behind by the ministry for state security, or Stasi, which was one of the most far-reaching and repressive intelligence services in the Soviet bloc.

"It raises the question for me whether the office fulfilled its legal obligation to inform the state prosecutor's office about its suspicion that a crime was committed," the director of a Stasi memorial in Berlin, Hubertus Knabe, said.

Die Berliner Mauer
Berlin woke on Aug. 14 1961 to a city dividedImage: AP

German authorities tried dozens of former border guards and government officials over their role up the chain of command in the killings at the Berlin Wall, which official statistics say claimed the lives of at least 270 people.

A city's painful legacy

East German authorities closed the border to the West overnight on August 13, 1961 to stop a mass exodus from the communist state.

The Wall made East Germans prisoners in their own country until it was toppled amid joyous scenes on November 9, 1989.