Advertisement

East Germans Allow 10,000 More to Leave

Share via
Times Staff Writer

East Germany imposed a ban Tuesday on unrestricted travel to Czechoslovakia but at the same time agreed to allow more than 10,000 of its nationals in Prague to leave for the West.

The ban on travel without special permission was ordered after several hundred East Germans broke through police lines in order to get into the West German Embassy in Prague. Many were beaten.

Word of the East German decision to allow more people to flee to the West was announced here by Rudolf Seiters, chief of staff to Chancellor Helmut Kohl. But the first train for East German refugees was apparently delayed Tuesday night and is not expected to leave Prague until this morning and reach the city of Hof in West Germany tonight.

Advertisement

He said the East German decision applied to about 4,700 East Germans in the embassy building and about 6,000 more on the grounds outside.

“We are confident we will not be confronted with any stragglers,” Seiters said, referring to the East Germans who failed to get on board the special refugee trains that arrived in West Germany from Prague Saturday night.

About 300 East Germans in Warsaw, also seeking to flee to the West, were expected to be given permission to leave as well, probably within the next few days.

Seiters said the East German government had agreed “on humanitarian grounds” to allow the refugees to join their 5,500 countrymen who entered West Germany from Prague on Saturday.

An additional 800 East Germans came into West Germany from Warsaw over the weekend, by special train through East Germany.

Seiters said that Chancellor Kohl had been notified of the East German decision in a telephone conversation with Czechoslovak Prime Minister Ladislav Adamec.

Advertisement

“We would like to express our great relief at this humanitarian decision, especially on behalf of the many small children and women,” Seiters said.

Earlier in the day, West German Foreign Minister Hans-Dietrich Genscher canceled a trip to Luxembourg and a meeting of European Community foreign ministers in order to keep abreast of events in the refugee crisis.

East Germany prepared the ground for Tuesday’s decision by declaring that its nationals could no longer travel to Czechoslovakia without special permission.

This temporarily solved the problem of East Germans crowding into the West German Embassy in Prague as a first step to the West. But in the longer term, diplomatic analysts here said, the move could only compound East Germany’s problem, because the East German people are bound to chafe under the curb on travel.

“They are really going to feel imprisoned,” one analyst said, “and this will make them that much more eager to leave for good.”

Baerbel Bohley, a founder of the New Forum reform group in East Berlin, said, “This will make the pressure greater still.” She said the restrictions on travel were one of the main reasons East Germans are fleeing their country.

Advertisement

The ban will also make it much more difficult for East Germans to reach Hungary, where the government opened its western border Sept. 11, since the usual route to Hungary is through Czechoslovakia.

Erich Honecker, the East German leader, said in a speech to a group of war veterans in East Berlin: “People in West Germany believe they can turn East Germany upside down with a comprehensive attack. The more insolently somebody breaks his word when carrying out humanitarian acts, the clearer our response will be.”

This was a reference to East German charges that West Germany had gone back on its word to shut down the refugee operation after Saturday’s departures. West German officials insist that there was no such agreement.

Honecker said in his speech that socialism under a Communist regime has brought “happiness for our people and the people of Europe,” and he concluded: “East Germany is and remains a firm barrier against all attempts to alter the outcome of World War II and postwar development and the geopolitical realities of Europe.”

Yet the railroad cars crowded with East German refugees were barely out of Prague on Saturday night when additional refugees began arriving at the West German Embassy there. They continued to scale the fence enclosing the embassy grounds throughout Sunday, Monday and Tuesday, although many of them reportedly have been attacked by Czechoslovak policemen.

Once they arrive in West Germany, the East Germans enjoy the same status as the citizens there, since Bonn recognizes only a single German citizenship. There they are put up in temporary reception centers that have been set up around the country.

Advertisement

Tuesday’s unexpected accord on new refugee departures came after a day of charges and countercharges. East Germany and Czechoslovakia both accused West Germany of breaking its word to close its mission in Prague once the East Germans were moved out.

When the new East German arrivals in Prague were allowed into the West German Embassy and grounds, the East German government accused West Germany of a “gross breach of trust.”

In Bonn, officials said they had ordered the embassy in Prague to close its doors, but only temporarily, as a “technical” measure.

“We only suspended admission,” an official said. “It represents no change in our policy of accepting all Germans.”

A spokesman for the Czechoslovak government, Miroslav Pavel, criticized the West German decision to let in more East Germans. He said their presence in Prague was “seriously violating public order.”

In Bonn, meanwhile, Kohl was trying without success to telephone Honecker in order to discuss the crisis. He was told that Honecker would not be available until after Saturday, when East Germany will celebrate its 40th anniversary as a nation.

Advertisement

Finally, the call was put through, and an agreement was reached on allowing more departures.

The scene at the embassy in Prague was chaotic, diplomats there reported by telephone.

“There are more than 5,000 people with only eight toilets, which are stuffed up,” an official in Bonn said. “We are worried about disease breaking out. There are a large number of young children among the refugees.”

West German officials complained that the Czechoslovak government refused to relieve the “intolerable situation” by accommodating the refugee overflow in buildings outside the embassy grounds--as the Polish government had done in Warsaw.

Red Cross workers described conditions at the embassy as much worse than before Saturday’s departures, mainly because of the presence of about 1,000 children and the shortage of sanitary facilities.

Women and children were sleeping in the baroque old palace that houses the embassy, and the men shared about 45 tents set up outside.

Some East Germans used ropes to scramble over the rear wall into the embassy grounds. Others entered the U.S. Embassy next door and climbed a wall into the West German Embassy grounds.

Advertisement

The crowd in the embassy broke into cheers when they heard the news that they were to be allowed to go to the West. People standing out in front promptly began looking for buses to take them to the railroad station.

The trains will pass through East Germany, diplomats here said, as a face-saving measure for East Germany. This will allow the East German regime to maintain that the refugees were expelled as traitors.

East Germans who arrived in the refugee camp at Giessen in West Germany on Sunday said that East German security police had confiscated their documents as they passed through.

The gates to the West opened for East Germans not long after the first of the year when the regime decided to grant more official emigration visas. The flow was accelerated in May, when the Hungarian government decided to dismantle the fence that marks its border with Austria. It became a flood after Sept. 11, when the Hungarian government announced that East Germans would not need exit visas to cross into Austria.

Since January, about 110,000 East Germans have arrived in West Germany, two-thirds of them legally and the rest illegally. To this figure will be added the thousands that arrived last weekend from Warsaw and Prague--and thousands more in the next day or two.

CONFUSION IN PRAGUE: Thousands jam the streets, awaiting trains. Page 18.

Advertisement