Four former East German border guards have been arrested and charged with manslaughter for carrying out the ousted Communist regime's "shoot-to-kill" policy at the Berlin Wall, justice officials said Saturday. The guards were charged in connection with the shooting of Chris Geoffroy, the last person killed fleeing from East Berlin to the West in February 1989, nine months before the wall was breached.
Berlin justice department spokeswoman Jutta Burghart said the four, accused of manslaughter and attempted manslaughter, were the first to be charged in connection with East Berlin's order that anyone trying to flee the country could be shot.
They were arrested Friday and charged Saturday, Burghart said.
Geoffroy, a 20-year-old waiter from East Berlin, was killed and his friend Christian Gaudin, also 20, was wounded when border guards fired on them as they tried to flee over the wall to West Berlin.
Nearly 200 people were killed trying to flee East Germany, either over the Berlin Wall, built in 1961, or across the inner-German border. The border vanished when East and West Germany united last October.
Burghart said the four former guards were all in their mid-20s. She identified them only as Andreas K., Peter Sch., Mike Sch. and Ingo H.
No date had been set for a trial, she said.
She said the men's identities had been known to officials since late 1990, when an arrest warrant was issued for former East German leader Erich Honecker.
The warrant against Honecker, who issued the shoot-to-kill command, accused him of incitement to commit manslaughter.
But Honecker was given refuge at a Soviet army hospital in eastern Germany where he could not be arrested. He was spirited away to the Soviet Union this year.
Four other leading East German Communists, including former Prime Minister Willi Stoph and former defense minister Heinz Kessler, were arrested in May on charges similar to those against Honecker.
Officials have said Honecker's "escape" could make it harder to convict the people who carried out his orders.