German prosecutors have charged an 88-year-old former member of the elite Waffen SS with taking part in the massacre of hundreds of French villagers during World War Two.

"The prosecution charges an 88-year-old pensioner from Cologne with [joining in] the destruction of Oradour-sur-Glane in France," Achim Hengstenberg, court spokesman in the western German city, announced on Wednesday.

"He and another shooter are said to have killed 25 men in a barn with his machinegun. He is also said to have aided the burning down of the village church."

The accused, whose name was not released, denied the charges, saying through his lawyer that he did not fire a single shot and tried to save the lives of some of the victims.

Methodical slaughter

The SS unit decided to wipe out Oradour-sur-Glane as an example to French Resistance after a vehicle carrying an SS doctor was ambushed on a road leading to the village in June 1944.

In the methodical slaughter that followed, SS soldiers killed 642 men, women and children. The men were herded into barns and shot while women and 207 children, the youngest of whom was eight weeks old, were burned alive in the village church.

Only five men and a woman survived the massacre and the village remains in its post-massacre state as a monument to those who died.

"It's important that we find someone even if it's 70 years afterwards," Robert Hebras, one of the six survivors, told French broadcaster BFM TV.

Heinz Lammerding, the Waffen SS general in command of the unit that committed the massacre, was captured by Allied forces but never extradited to France and was sentenced to death in absentia by a Bordeaux military court in 1951. He died in his bed in Bavaria in 1971.

Source: Agencies