Ex-Romanian Secret Police on Trial : East Bloc: They are among the 21 defendants accused of stealing and burning corpses of 40 protesters.

From Reuters

The trial of 21 former secret police and others opened today with the prosecution charging that, to cover up their crime, they stole and burned the corpses of 40 protesters they had killed.

Local residents jeered the 21 defendants in this Transylvanian city, birthplace of the December revolution that swept dictator Nicolae Ceausescu from power in December.

Official figures released at the hearing showed 94 people died in Timisoara during the pro-democracy demonstrations, 300 others were badly wounded and 23 simply disappeared.

The 21 defendants--former Securitate officers, senior police officials and two Bucharest cemetery supervisors--were led into the dock wearing beige-and-brown striped uniforms, the dress of convicts. Their heads were shaved.

A small crowd booed and jeered as they pulled up in a police van flanked by armored cars. The courthouse was ringed by armored personnel carriers and about 100 soldiers.

The most senior Securitate officer on trial is Gen. Emil Macri, head of the security police's counterintelligence. He was sent from Bucharest to Timisoara by Ceausescu to quell the pro-democracy demonstrations, military prosecutor Mihai Radulescu said.

He said Macri's first orders on arriving in Timisoara were effectively to isolate the city of 320,000 from the rest of the world. All roads around the city were blocked off, foreigners were barred and all telephone links were cut.

The 21 face charges of complicity in genocide and assisting in genocide, and all face maximum terms of life imprisonment if found guilty by the three-man military tribunal.

Reports that thousands of people had been killed by the Securitate in Timisoara in mid-December spread around the country, triggering the revolution.

The initial figures were grossly exaggerated, but there were gasps in court today as prosecutors described how the bodies of 40 demonstrators had been disposed of. The corpses were reportedly stolen, cremated and their ashes tipped down a drain.

On the night of Dec. 18, Timisoara's deputy chief of the Securitate, Maj. Ioan Corbodeanu, acting under Macri's orders, went to the district hospital where the bodies of protesters shot a day earlier were being kept, Radulescu told the court.

Saying the Securitate was helping the hospital to make more space, Corbodeanu loaded the bodies into a truck that was driven to Bucharest, 300 miles away.

All electricity in the hospital was switched off during the three-hour body-snatch.

In Bucharest the bodies were taken to the city's main crematory where four workers were paid the equivalent of $20 to "forget" what they had seen.

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