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Red Army Faction Offers Deal for Prisoners' Freedom

A LETTER from the Red Army Faction (RAF) renouncing violence has unleashed a heated debate in Bonn as to how to respond to it.

The letter from the German terrorist group, delivered to the Bonn bureau of Agence-France Presse on Monday, has been determined to be authentic. In it, the RAF rejects murders of business and political leaders as a way to achieve its goals. But it also demands that imprisoned faction members who are ill or have been interned the longest be released ahead of schedule, and that RAF inmates be consolidated into a single prison.

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Justice Minister Klaus Kinkel reacted positively to the letter. "We must not let the approaches apparent in this letter go to waste, but must respond positively," he said in a radio interview on Tuesday.

Mr. Kinkel said the letter indicates "a fully new step" by the RAF, but he ruled out "concessions" and "negotiations" with the terrorists.

But Finance Minister Theo Waigel, leader of the conservative Christian Social Union, cautioned against the hope that the letter means an end to RAF atrocities. He rejected a "peace treaty" with the RAF. "No one knows whether new violence won't be conceivable again tomorrow," he said.

The RAF was beginning to rethink its violent strategy in 1989, according to the RAF's letter. In November 1989, however, the RAF claimed responsibility for the murder of Deutsche Bank chief Alfred Herrhausen. Last April it added Detlev Rohwedder, the late head of the Treuhandanstalt privatization agency, to its list of victims.

In its letter, the RAF admitted mistakes in strategy, but never expressed remorse. The faction said it recognized that through its strategy of violence it was not "becoming politically stronger, but weaker."

The RAF is a uniquely German organization whose goal is to fight "the military-industrial complex." In the 1970s, the RAF and other terrorists committed 28 murders.

Most of their leaders were arrested by the early 1980s, after a decade-long intense police crackdown. Another wave of arrests followed the opening of the Berlin Wall and the consequent uncovering of terrorists who had been in hiding in East Germany.

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This year, seven of the imprisoned RAF terrorists could be released, either because their sentences have run out or because they are eligible for parole. There is also the possibility of pardon by Germany's president, Richard von Weizscker.

The RAF warned in its letter that if the the German state continues to "repress" those in the "underclasses" and not seek solutions through "discussion," then it will take back its declared moratorium on violence.

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