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East and West Germany Make a Spy Swap

August 13, 1987|From Reuters

BONN — West Germany on Wednesday exchanged a top Soviet Bloc spy for an East German prisoner whose release was long sought by Bonn.

The border swap came less than four weeks before a historic visit to West Germany by East German leader Erich Honecker.

West German government sources said Bonn traded Manfred Rotsch, a 63-year-old engineer sentenced to an 8 1/2-year jail term in July, 1986, for passing secrets about the Tornado combat aircraft to Moscow, for Christa-Karin Schumann.

Bonn has long wanted her release on humanitarian grounds. Schumann, the former woman friend of a top East German naval officer executed eight years ago for spying for the West, is said to be in poor health.

Diplomatic sources said the East Germans did well in Wednesday's swap, pointing out that Rotsch had only been unmasked in 1984, while Schumann had been imprisoned since 1979. They said her release reduced the likelihood of human rights groups demonstrating during Honecker's Sept. 7-11 visit, the first by an East German head of state to West Germany.

Government sources said the exchange, involving a total of five people, took place at the Herleshausen border crossing between the two German states.

Bonn's Inner-German Affairs Ministry confirmed that Schumann is now in West Germany but would give no further details.

The Bonn sources said East Germany also released a former West German counterintelligence officer, Wilhelm Wilms, who was serving a life sentence for espionage, in return for two East Berlin agents.

The sources confirmed a report by the Bild newspaper, which named the two other East German spies traded as Klaus Schmidt and Wolfgang Klautzsch, described as "small fry" serving between two and three years for espionage.

Health Problems Cited

There have been persistent reports in the West German media that Schumann is in poor health. Bild said she suffers from heart and circulation problems.

Schumann was arrested by security agents more than eight years ago at the same time her companion, Rear Adm. Winfried Baumann-Zakrzowski, was arrested for treason. Her sister-in-law, Ruth Thomitzek, said both were planning to flee East Germany with the help of West German intelligence. He was executed.

Bild said that Schumann, who was serving a 15-year sentence, had not seen sunlight for years because "a camouflage net was draped over her prison courtyard."

Rotsch, who left East Germany for the West in 1954, was described at his trial in Munich as "the KGB's longest-serving spy in West Germany."

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