By Stefan J. Bos, Chief International Correspondent BosNewslife
BUDAPEST, HUNGARY (BosNewsLife)-- Hungarian prosecutors say they have charged a former Hungarian military officer with war crimes in the World War Two massacre of up to 1,200 civilians in neighboring Serbia. The decision to charge Sandor Kepiro follows pressure from the Simon Wiesenthal Center, which is searching for Nazi war criminals around the world.
Hungarian prosecutors confirmed Monday, February 14, that Kepiro has been indicted for involvement in murdering over one thousand civilians in the northern Serbian province of Vojvodina, during World War Two. "In January 1942 the defendant, as an officer of the gendarme, participated in the illegal massacre of unarmed and innocent people in Vojvodina," said Gabriella Skoda, the spokesperson of the Budapest prosecutor's office.
Prosecutors say Kepiro, who will turn 97 this week, ordered his patrol to shoot civilians to death between January 21 and January 23, 1942, near the Danube river. The bloodshed became known as "the massacre of Novi Sad", named after the city where the killings took place.
He escaped to Argentina, but in 2006 the Jerusalem-based Simon Wiesenthal Center revealed that he was now living in Budapest. Prosecutors launched an investigation into the case a year later and officials say the current charges are based on documents obtained from archives in Hungary and Serbia.
Kepiro has been on of the most wanted list of the Wiesenthal Center, which is working to track down war criminals such as Kepiro, explained its director Efraim Zuroff. "He was in charge of the round ups of hundreds of civilians living in a section of the city of Novi Sad. Who were then taken, most of them, were marched to the embankment," the Naz5-hunter said.
Experts say Hungarian forces rounded up as many as 1,200 people, mainly Jews, Serbs and Roma, also known as Gypsies. They killed them with machine-gun fire on the shores of the river Danube. On Monday, February 14, Kepiro denied he committed any crimes. He made it clear he was bed-ridden and wanted to return to his family in Argentina as an innocent man. But when asked earlier by a reporter whether he regretted participating in the raids, Kepiro said: "No I don't regret it, it was my obligation."
In another interview he admitted that it was his job to supervise gendarme patrols in a three-day raid against alleged partisans in Novi Sad in 1942. Kepiro's alleged crimes happened when Hungary was a close ally of Nazi Germany. Hungarians also participated in killing some 600,000 Hungarian Jews and 50,000 Roma in the Holocaust.
The Wiesenthal Center says the question is now whether "the Hungarian Government has the political will that justice will be achieved." The answer will depend on the outcome of the trial. Hungarian prosecutors caution however that they don't known when the Budapest Court will begin its procedures against Kepiro, one of the last, still living, suspected war criminals.
If convicted, he can be sentenced to life imprisonment.