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Last Updated: Wednesday, 22 June, 2005, 20:55 GMT 21:55 UK
Italy convicts former SS officers
German troops in the Second World War
The Germans said they were hunting for partisans
Italy has sentenced 10 German former Nazi officers to life imprisonment for their role in a World War II massacre of 560 civilians in an Italian village.

The defendants, all in their 80s, were tried in absentia in a military tribunal in the port town of La Spezia.

The court heard that the killings in the Tuscan village of Sant'Anna di Stazzema had been premeditated.

The jury took seven hours to reach a verdict on the August 1944 massacre, one of Italy's worst war crimes.

Premeditated

"These men were not novices. They had fought on the western front [..] These were not people, though they were young, who did not know they were doing," prosecutor Marco De Paolis told the court.

The massacre happened just days after British troops liberated Florence in 1944, when hundreds of SS troops surrounded the village near the town of Lucca.

The Germans' defence lawyer said the men, part of a group of about 300, had believed they were hunting for partisans when they travelled to the hill town.

Witnesses say they rounded up the villagers, mostly women and children, and shot them before burning bodies and houses.

Luigi Trucco, who represents two of the defendants, said that he was disappointed at the ruling.

He said it was likely that they would appeal.

The men are unlikely to be imprisoned as they are too old to serve sentences in Italy.

Hidden files

But survivors of the massacre welcomed the trial and its outcome.

"We had asked for two things," Enio Mancini, who was six at the time of the massacre, told Reuters, "Justice, as far as that is still possible, but also truth. The trial has already helped with that."

Italian authorities only began investigating the massacre 10 years ago when a journalist stumbled across a cupboard of witness statements.

Last year, the government set up a parliamentary commission to find out how these files remained hidden for six decades.


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