Communist East Germany on Friday hailed the "positive effects" of the Berlin Wall, where 77 people have been killed in attempted escapes to the West since it was erected in 1961.
On the eve of the wall's 27th anniversary, the official Communist Party newspaper published a lengthy article repeating long-standing allegations that the 13-foot-high barrier had blocked a planned attack from the West.Under a headline reading "For peace, for socialism," the Neues Deutschland newspaper recalled the start of the wall's construction on Aug. 13, 1961. "From then on, positive effects have continued up until today and will continue in the future," it said.
"The summer Sunday 27 years ago stands in close relation to the struggle for the maintentance and strengthening of peace, security and cooperation on our continent," the newspaper added.
East German border guards hastily began erecting the wall through downtown Berlin, dividing the city East and West when the flow of refugees to West Germany became so great it threatened to cripple the communist nation's economy.
Today, armed East German guards with shoot-to-kill orders patrol the wall around the clock. Floodlights illuminate it at night.
Neues Deutschland said that in 1961, "the Western powers used hysteria and an open threat of military force as the answer to the proposals of the Soviet Union and other Socialist countries for the assurance of peace and the resolution of the anomalous situation in Berlin-West."
The paper said there were plans at the time for a "forcible change of the status quo."
"The attack was tried out in a series of NATO maneuevers, and troop readiness areas were drawn up," the paper said.
The August 13th Working Group, a West Berlin organization that monitors human rights in East Germany, says the number of people who have been killed in escape attempts is 77.
The last reported death came on May 23, 1987, when a lifeless body was carried away from the wall on the East Berlin side.
Rainer Hildebrandt, the head of the August 13th group, told a news conference on Friday: "The shoot-to-kill orders are still in effect at the Berlin Wall and on the boundary between the two German states."
The orders reportedly have been temporarily suspended at times, for example during President Reagan's visit to West Berlin last year.
Maik Sohr, a former East German soldier who fled to the West in May, said he estimated that 90 percent of those who want to flee to West Germany are apprehended before they can make an attempt.
He said special security units track potential escapees by watching for unusually large bank withdrawals or sales of personal possessions.