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18 E. GERMANS SEEK REFUGE IN EAST BERLIN’S U.S. EMBASSY

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Eighteen East Germans sought refuge in the U.S. Embassy in East Berlin Wednesday as about 10,000 of their countrymen in Prague prepared to board "freedom trains" bound for West Germany.

The arrival of 10 adults and eight children at the American mission Tuesday marked the first direct U.S. involvement in the political and human drama surrounding the mass exodus of East Germans seeking to emigrate to the West.A U.S. Embassy official in East Berlin said the Bush administration would seek a "humanitarian solution" in deciding the fate of the 18 refugees. Diplomats said lawyer Wolfgang Vogel, a confidant of East German leader Erich Honecker, would be involved in negotiations.

"The U.S. Embassy is in contact with all appropriate parties to find an acceptable solution," an embassy official said.

In Prague, Czechoslovak officials said East German trains would start rolling out of Prague about 5 p.m. Wednesday (noon EDT) bearing 10,000 cold and hungry East Germans to the West. Thousands of others, meanwhile, sought ways to join the East bloc's largest exodus since the construction of the Berlin Wall.

Travelers arriving in the West German border town of Hof said East German forces had begun sealing off railway stations along the route of the so-called "freedom trains," apparently in a bid to prevent more refugees from hopping on the coaches as they pass. About 1,500 people were gathered outside one railway station at Dresden along the route, the travelers said.

The West German Bild newspaper reported 3,000 people were arrested trying to pass illegally into Czechoslovakia to join in the mass movement, which comes just days before celebrations marking the 40th anniversary of the East German state. Another 8,000 East Germans are believed in Czechoslovakia, apparently hoping for passage.