Greek lodges Germany challenge over WWII atrocity suit

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Greece on Friday lodged its challenge to a German appeal at the International Court of Justice against a ruling that gave compensation to Greek victims of a Nazi wartime atrocity, officials said.

The Greek foreign ministry said Athens had lodged its demand "to participate in the process in order to present its position ... and secure justice for the victims of Distomo," a Greek village massacred by Nazi troops in 1944.

Germany has dismissed the Greek challenge as unfounded and expressed confidence that the ICJ will rule in its favour.

"I have simply no understanding for the decision of the Greek government," Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle said on Thursday.

"In Germany, we know our responsibility for our history. And we also know about the particular suffering of the Greek people in World War II".

In 2007, a court in Florence, Italy, slapped a financial charge on two buildings owned by the German state at the request of relatives of Greek victims of a Nazi massacre in the central Greek village of Distomo.

The bloodbath on June 10, 1944 left 217 people dead.

The plaintiffs had turned to the Italian courts after their attempts to win compensation in Greece stalled. After Germany appealed to the ICJ in December 2008, Greece had until friday the 14th of january to state its position.

"In terms of lawsuits against Germany, we expect internationally recognised principles of law and particularly Germany's immunity as a state to be respected," Westerwelle said in a statement.

"If this principle is undermined, the community of nations could face legal insecurity."

The issue of wartime reparation claims over Germany's four-year occupation of Greece, which ruined the country financially and left thousands dead, has complicated relations between Athens and Berlin for decades.

It resurfaced last year, when Germany's resistance to a loan bailout for debt-hit Greece sparked an ugly exchange of recriminations between the countries' media.

Some Greek politicians noted that Nazi forces had looted state gold reserves and said Berlin should be less smug over money.

In 1997 a Greek court ordered Germany to pay 28.6 million euros ($38 million) to the Distomo plaintiffs but opposition from Berlin and reluctance from Greek justice ministers meant the ruling was never enforced.

Germany has always refused to pay, arguing that the issue of compensation was settled by a bilateral agreement with Greece dating from 1960.

The German government says it has paid out more than 67 billion euros to victims of the Nazis including survivors of concentration camps, ghettos or forced labour programmes.

The ICJ will examine the case in June.

© 2011 AFP

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