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23 Aug, 2007 08:37

Estonian veteran charged with genocide

A highly decorated Soviet Army veteran and a cousin of Estonia's late president, Lennart Meri, has been charged with genocide for helping to deport hundreds of his countrymen to Soviet camps after WW2.

Arnold Meri was allegedly involved in the deportation of 251 Estonian citizens from the Hijumaa island off the Estonian Baltic coast in March 1949.

Mr Meri says he was not instrumental in the deportations. The 88-year-old does not expect to see the end of the court case as he is nearly blind and deaf, and suffers from high blood pressure.

“This genocide case is 12 years old! It seems that it was pushed ahead only when it suited the authorities. It looks like the people infatuated by the Bronze soldier monument relocation are longing for good old times. So, they have found a new obsession that will stir up hatred,” Arnold Meri said.

Meanwhile, Estonia is gradually prosecuting people involved in the deportations of more than 20,000 Estonians to Siberia during and after WW2. Five veterans have already been convicted for the deportation of 1949, regarded as genocide by the Estonian government.

If found guilty, Arnold Meri will face between ten years and life imprisonment.