BONN — The diplomatic tug-of-war over Erich Honecker intensified Friday as Chile weighed evidence that the fugitive former East German leader, holed up in its Moscow embassy, faked cancer to get sanctuary on humanitarian grounds.
Bonn and Moscow both demanded that the Santiago government immediately turn over the 79-year-old former Communist boss for extradition to Germany, where he faces criminal charges in connection with his shoot-to-kill policy at the Berlin Wall.
"I don't rule out something happening this weekend," a Bonn government spokesman said in a telephone interview Friday when asked about the likelihood of Honecker's return. "We fully expect Chile to put him outside the gate now; it's just a question of when," said the aide, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
Honecker was given refuge in the Chilean ambassador's residence last December, after the Soviet regime collapsed and the Russian republic ordered him expelled. The ambassador, Clodomiro Almeyda, has been a friend of Honecker's since the latter granted the Chilean socialist political asylum in East Germany after the 1973 military coup overthrew Marxist President Salvador Allende.
With the right-wing opposition demanding his resignation, Almeyda was summoned back to Santiago to report to the government.
The diplomatic impasse over Honecker came to a head this week after Russian doctors who examined Honecker reported that he was in sound health. Honecker's wife, Margot, and Chilean officials had claimed he was near death from kidney cancer. The Russian doctors said they found no trace of the disease.
Honecker was spirited to Moscow on a Soviet military plane a year ago as German prosecutors prepared a case against him. He was initially housed at a Soviet military hospital, where he supposedly was receiving medical care.
He tried in vain to win political asylum from Chile, where his married daughter lives, but was given permission to visit. But Russian authorities threatened to arrest him and turn him over to Germany should he venture outside the embassy compound.
Wiegand Pabsch, the German ambassador to Chile, delivered a sharply worded verbal protest to the Santiago government on Friday, saying Bonn was "surprised and astonished" by Chile's protection of Honecker.
"The German government cannot accept that Honecker's remaining in Moscow be treated as the private affair of the Chilean ambassador," the Foreign Ministry quoted the protest as saying. "There is no justification under international law for Honecker remaining in the embassy," it added.
Bonn's chief government spokesman, Hanns Schumacher, told a news conference Friday that Russia was also stepping up pressure on Chile.
In Santiago, the Chilean government reportedly complained that Bonn had leaked the protest a day before delivering it, but otherwise gave no official response to it.
"A lot of German money flows to Chile, and our relations have developed positively both politically and economically," said the government spokesman who insisted upon anonymity. "They don't want to seriously damage their relations with Germany over Honecker now."