Honecker Flown to Moscow by Soviets; Bonn Protests : Germany: The former Communist chief is wanted by a Berlin court for his East German role. Kohl’s government insists that he ‘be returned without delay.’
In a move certain to strain Soviet-German relations, the Soviet Union has flown former East German Communist leader Erich Honecker from a military hospital outside Berlin to Moscow, ostensibly for emergency medical treatment.
Hours after news of Honecker’s flight was made public Thursday, the German government demanded his immediate return.
German government spokesman Dieter Vogel said the Soviet ambassador to Bonn, Vladislav Terechov, was summoned to the federal chancellery Thursday evening and informed “that Honecker must be returned without delay.”
“The Soviet Union knows that there are legal proceedings pending against Honecker that have not been able to be completed,” Vogel said.
The 78-year-old Communist ruled East Germany for nearly two decades before he was removed from power in October, 1989, a month before the collapse of the Berlin Wall.
A Berlin court issued a warrant for Honecker’s arrest last December, alleging that he issued “shoot-to-kill” orders to East German guards patrolling the 867-mile-long inner-German frontier and the 100 miles of the Berlin Wall.
However, because Honecker was living on a Soviet military base near Berlin at the time, German authorities were unable to arrest him. Despite several months of diplomacy, Moscow refused to turn over the aging former leader.
Vogel said the German government was informed by Terechov that Honecker was being flown to Moscow on Wednesday morning, allegedly because of an “emergency deterioration” of his medical condition. Because they learned of Honecker’s departure barely an hour before he took off, the spokesman said, it was too late to block the move.
Vogel said the Soviet decision to transfer Honecker out of Germany violated a treaty between the two countries governing the presence of Soviet forces in eastern Germany until their withdrawal in 1994.
Honecker’s lawyer, Nicholas Becker, confirmed Thursday that Honecker had been flown to the Soviet Union for medical treatment.
Honecker is the first former East Bloc leader to be given de facto refuge by the Soviet Union.
Ironically, he was also among those most vehemently opposed to the political liberalization launched by Soviet President Mikhail S. Gorbachev. Honecker’s fall came only days after Gorbachev visited what was then East Berlin and urged him to begin his own reforms, warning, “History punishes those who delay.”
For several months after his fall from power, Honecker stayed at the home of an East German Protestant pastor. Last spring, he moved onto the large Soviet military base at Beelitz, southwest of Berlin. Two days after his arrest warrant was issued, he was transferred to the base hospital, reportedly suffering high blood pressure.
Berlin judicial authorities formally asked the Soviets to hand Honecker over, but Moscow ignored the request.
At the time, sources close to Chancellor Helmut Kohl noted that the Honecker affair was politically sensitive for Gorbachev because of the events surrounding the East German leader’s fall.
“It’s one thing for someone like Honecker to fall, but another to have him humiliated in a public trial in the West,” an aide to Kohl commented at the time.
In an interview with the conservative newspaper Die Welt, published Thursday, Berlin chief public prosecutor Dietrich Schultz said that if the Soviet authorities return Honecker, there would be “good chances” that he could be put on trial this year.