German bishop urges dialogue with terrorists

By staff writers
1 Feb 2007

German Lutheran Bishop Margot Kaessmann has urged the authorities in her coutry to enter into a dialogue with imprisoned members of the Red Army Faction terrorist group which operated in Germany from the 1970s - reports Ecumenical News International (ENI).

"For the state to refuse to talk with the Red Army Faction terrorists would not be a sign of strength," Kaessmann said in an interview with the Protestant news agency, epd.

Kaessmann's remarks came as President Horst Koehler on 29 January 2007 denied media reports that he was planning a visit to one of the prisoners, Christian Klar, who was sentenced to five sentences of life imprisonment in 1985, but who has requested a presidential pardon.

The extreme left-wing RAF, sometimes referred to as the Baader-Meinhof Gang after two of its original leaders, Andreas Baader and Ulrike Meinhof, mounted a terrorist campaign in the then West Germany from the 1970s, which targeted political and business leaders.

Klar is not eligible for parole until 2009, but would be released sooner if pardoned. A court is also to rule soon on whether another jailed RAF member, Brigitte Mohnhaupt, should be released on parole.

"Do not free the murderers of my husband!" Waltrude Schleyer, the widow of business leader Hanns-Martin Schleyer, killed by the RAF, was quoted saying by the Bild newspaper. "These people don't deserve mercy."

Bishop Kaessmann said no-one could force the relatives of the victims to show mercy and forgiveness. "I can understand if some of them are not able to do that," said the bishop, who heads the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Hanover, Germany's biggest regional Protestant church.

She said each step towards a possible pardon, as requested by Klar, needed to be carefully considered from a legal point of view. There have been conflicting reports in the media as to whether Klar has expressed remorse for his actions.

"I am not sure if the perpetrators are big enough to confess their guilt," Kaessmann said. If they did so, they would be admitting that not only the lives of others, but also their own lives had been destroyed because they had been seduced by an ideology, the bishop said. "That would be a tough thing to have to do but something that is needed if we are to look to the future."

[With grateful acknowledgements to ENI. Ecumenical News International is jointly sponsored by the World Council of Churches, the Lutheran World Federation, the World Alliance of Reformed Churches, and the Conference of European Churches]

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