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Eight people are under investigation on the island of Saaremaa in connection with mass deportations to Siberia that took place more than 50 years ago.
Initially 12 people were suspected of drawing up deportation lists - a register of people accused of not being loyal to Soviet rule.
Nine of them are still alive, one of whom could not stand trial due to poor health. The cases of the alleged eight have not yet reached the prosecutor's office.
Heino Laus, 74, a pensioner now residing in Kuressaare, the largest town on the island, was only 21 when he allegedly took part in the deportations. He says he is not guilty of any crimes, only of obeying orders as a police officer.
"In an organization of a military type, an order from the superior officer must be obeyed," Laus told the regional newspaper Meie Maa.
The others under investigation are Stepan Nikejev, Rudolf Sisask, Albert Kolga, August Kolt, Pjotr Kisly, Viktor Martson and Vladimir Kask.
There have been six court trials in Estonia since 1995 of people charged with taking part in Soviet deportations.
If all eight suspects go to trial in the Saaremaa case, it will be the largest so far in the Baltic countries.
Henno Kuurmann, a spokesman for the Estonian security police, said the investigation of the Saaremaa case began in August 1999, in an attempt to find those responsible for the mass deportations on the island in March 1949.
According to the Kistler-Ritso Foundation, a non-profit U.S.-based research center that is lobbying to build an occupation museum in Estonia along the same lines as the one in Latvia's capital Riga, the exact number of people deported from Estonia is not known.
In the deportations of March 25 and 26, 1949, 20,000 men, women and children were dragged from their homes and locked in cattle cars that took them to Siberia. The average term of settlement or imprisonment there was 15 years. Many did not manage to survive the first winter.
In a separate development, two relatives of Estonian defense forces commander Vice Admiral Tarmo Kouts were accused of organizing deportations from a village on Saaremaa by the weekly Eesti Ekspress in its March 7 issue.
The security police retorted that the vice admiral's parents couldn't be accused of taking part in the deportations as they were involved in the event by force, like many others.
Kuurmann said Voldemar and Loviise Kouts, Vice Admiral Kouts' uncle and mother, respectively, were indeed present during the deportation procedures in the island's Valjala county in March 1949.
"They were neither responsible for the families deported nor made any decisions on deporting the people to Siberia," said Kuurmann.
The weekly referred to people living in Valjala county and Tallinn who said they witnessed the participation of the late Voldemar Kouts, chair of a village council, and Loviise Kouts, the council secretary, in the deportation of local families in 1949.
Tarmo Kouts was born in 1953.
The city court in Haapsalu, a mainland port town near Saaremaa, made the first conviction in Estonia on deportation charges in January 1999. Johannes Klaassepp, then 78, was sentenced to an eight-year suspended term for recommending the deportation of 23 people in 1949.
The charge of crimes against humanity carries prison sentences ranging from eight years to life.
Vladimir Loginov and Vassili Beskov were also convicted for committing crimes against humanity in the regions of Jarve and Parnu, respectively. Beskov received an eight-year suspended sentence in March 1999. Loginov was confined to a mental hospital.
Mikhail Neverovski, 79, a former NKVD officer, was charged in August 1999 with crimes against humanity in connection with the deportation of 279 people from the Parnu region. Neverovski maintained his innocence, saying he was present at the deportation procedures only as a translator. He appealed, and the case continues.
Earlier cases ended without a verdict. Vassili Riis and Idel Jakobson, tried in 1997 and 1998 on charges that they helped organize deportations, died during the trial.
The latest case, which reached prosecutors Feb. 28, is against former police officer Juri Karpov, who was allegedly involved in deportations from Tallinn and the surrounding area. A trial date has not been set.