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Former East German Stasi files to live on in federal archive

BERLIN (Reuters) - Germany is to merge the 111 kilometers (69 miles) of files meticulously collected by the loathed Communist East German secret police with its national archive to help preserve them and ensure they remain accessible, above all to victims.

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The Ministry of State Security, or Stasi, was one of the most repressive police organizations in the world, infiltrating almost every aspect of life in East Germany. Over four decades, it used torture, intimidation and informants to crush dissent.

In the three decades since the fall of the Berlin Wall, Germans have been able to apply for access to their personal files. In a painful process, many have uncovered a web of betrayal, discovering that friends, colleagues, spouses and even children had snooped on them.

On Wednesday, the head of the state-run Stasi files agency said it would in future be put under the auspices of the Federal Archive. The move will allow it to tap the national body’s expertise, technology and resources to preserve the “monument of a surveillance state”.

“In these times it is more important than ever to have a discourse about history to sharpen our senses to today’s challenges and strengthen awareness of freedom and human rights,” said Roland Jahn, head of the Stasi files agency.

He added, however, that Germany had a duty to show justice to the victims of the Communist dictatorship and the Ministry for State Security.

“Above all, these documents were and are for people who suffered under repression, to help them find out about their fate,” he said, stressing it would remain a priority to ensure the documents are accessible to people.

Last year, the archive received 45,000 requests to look at the files, down from some 87,000 a decade earlier. Interest from media and researchers remains high, said Jahn.

The Stasi had some 91,000 full-time staff at the time East Germany collapsed and a network of around 200,000 informants who spied on friends, colleagues and relatives.

In addition to the 111 kilometers of files, the authority has 15,000 sacks of shredded files that the Stasi attempted to destroy before its headquarters were ransacked in January 1990.

The exact timing of the move is still to be decided, but media have reported it is likely to take place in the next couple of years, and Germany’s Bundestag Lower House of Parliament has to give its approval.

Reporting by Swantje Stein, Reuters Television; Writing by Madeline Chambers; Editing by Alexandra Hudson