East Germany has removed the last of 60,000 scatter guns used to spray shrapnel at defectors fleeing across the border to West Germany, the Bonn government announced today.
The SM70 automatic guns, activated by trip wire, were posted on border fenceposts along a 275-mile line between the two German states. The deadly weapons were stacked in rows of three so that shots could strike a fugitive in a prone or standing position.
The elimination of the border guns fulfills a pledge made last year by East German leader Erich Honecker, shortly after the Bonn government underwrote a 1 billion-mark credit (then worth $380 million) in exchange for better consideration of human rights.
As the guns have been taken down in recent months, East German police have continued to fortify the frontier by raising new barriers and installing sophisticated electronic alarms along the entire 800-mile border.
"The German-German border has not become more penetrable with the guns' removal but it has become less lethal, less gruesome and less inhuman," said Ottfried Hennig, state secretary in Bonn's Ministry for Inter-German Affairs.
East Germany also has defused a large number of land mines installed along the border. The mines reportedly stretched across 500 miles in 1970 but now have been cut back to a stretch 70 miles long.
A Bonn government spokesman, Juergen Sudhoff, urged East German authorities to undertake further measures to eliminate "every form of violence at the border." He said that all land mines should be removed and orders to shoot fugitives withdrawn.
Nonetheless, West German officials welcomed today's action not only as fulfillment of Honecker's previous promises but also as a conciliatory signal that East Berlin wants to renew the quest for improved relations between the two German states that was abruptly quashed earlier this year under intense pressure from Moscow.
In September, Honecker was forced to call off a trip to West Germany that would have been the first ever by an East German leader. Officials in East Berlin indicated that the postponement was declared with great reluctance.
Diplomats said it was evident that the Soviet Union was unsettled by the momentum of the rapprochement between the two German states at a time when Moscow was trying to freeze East-West relations in retaliation for the deployment of Pershing II and cruise nuclear missiles in Western Europe.
As the Soviets have moved to restore a dialogue with the United States, East Germany has quietly made overtures that betray a persistent desire to bolster its own diplomatic contacts with the West.
Honecker visited Finland shortly after the cancellation of his West German visit, and Foreign Minister Oskar Fischer met with Secretary of State George P. Shultz at the United Nations in October. In a speech before the General Assembly, Fischer reiterated that his government's policy of "peaceful coexistence" toward Bonn was "to limit the damage" caused by the introduction of the missiles into Europe.