Nazi war criminal buried in Italy prison cemetery: Report

ROME (AFP) - Nazi war criminal Erich Priebke, whose death sparked a legal dispute over what to do with his body, has been secretly buried in an Italian prison cemetery, La Repubblica reported on Thursday.

"The fenced-off area where Priebke is buried, marked by a wooden cross in the underbrush... is a prison cemetery," the Italian daily said without providing details on where the cemetery is located.

It is "the only bit of Italian land where Priebke's death can go back to being just a death, not Nazi symbolism", it said, adding that the cross was unmarked except for a number.

The 100-year-old died while living under house arrest for his role in the massacre of 335 people - almost all of them civilians - in the Ardeatine complex of caves near Rome in 1944.

Rome city authorities banned any burial out of fear it could become a Nazi pilgrimage site and the Vatican issued an unprecedented order barring any Catholic church in the city from holding a funeral mass for the war criminal.

Argentina, where he had lived in exile and wanted to be buried, said it would not take the body.

Held for safekeeping at a military airport near Rome after an attempted funeral sparked rioting, the body was collected at 3.45am on a Sunday in October and loaded onto a grey station wagon.

It was driven up the motorway for a couple of hours before, "as dawn approached, the coffin was unloaded and loaded onto another car", before being driven into "a mountainous area".

"Even if we cannot reveal the location of his grave, the public should know that the affair has been brought to a close," La Repubblica said.

Nicknamed the "Butcher of the Ardeatine Caves", Priebke always insisted that he had only ever obeyed orders.

The victims of the massacre were executed with a bullet to the neck, killed in retaliation for an attack by the resistance movement on SS soldiers.

Priebke managed like many Nazis to escape to Argentina at the end of World War II, evading the 1948 trial in Rome of other perpetrators.

Because of his age and ill-health he was allowed to serve out his life sentence at the home of his lawyer after being extradited from Argentina, where he lived a free man for nearly 50 years.

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