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Former Soviet Soldiers In Afghanistan Blast Amnesty Offer

July 16, 1988

NEW YORK (AP) _ Six Soviet soldiers who deserted or were captured while fighting in Afghanistan said they would refuse an offer to return to their homeland because they feared retribution from Soviet authorities.

But a man who jumped to his feet during their news conference Friday and identified himself as a Soviet diplomat said the men would face no harm if they returned.

″Don’t be shy. If you wish to be in contact, call the Soviet Embassy in Washington,″ he called out to the former soldiers. ″Nobody will drag you out of the United States.″

As other audience members jeered him, he strode to the front of the room to put printed leaflets on the table in front of the men.

He identified himself as Dmitry Titov of the Soviet Mission to the United Nations. The leaflets bore a Soviet statement of July 4 that announced an offer of amnesty to soldiers who turned against their country during its 8 1/2 -year war in Afghanistan.

The news conference featuring the former soldiers was sponsored by Freedom House, a New York-based human rights group. The six were brought to the news conference by Freedom House, which had sought their release.

R. Bruce McColm, executive director of the organization, said he called the meeting to urge the establishment of an international commission, not linked to the Soviet Union, to address the issue of Soviet and Afghan prisoners of war.

He said a commission could ensure the estimated 200-300 Soviet POWs remaining in the hands of anti-communist mujahedeen fighters have a choice whether to return home or defect. Freedom House estimates that many are deserters and some actually are fighting for the insurgents.

Friday’s news conference, conducted in Russian and English through an interpreter, was punctuated by outbursts in both languages.

Taras Derevlyany, 20, a private who left his army post on the Kabul- Jalalabad highway three weeks after arriving in Afghanistan in May 1987, looked in the direction of Titov and said, ″I don’t need your amnesty. America is a free country.″

He paused and added, ″I give up my Soviet citizenship.″

Derevlyany and the others said they felt the Soviet intervention was a mistake and told how they were sickened by what they called the Soviet slaughter of civilians, including children, in bombing runs and ground attacks.

″I don’t want to go back to the Soviet Union,″ he said. ″What will people think of me? ’He’s a deserter, a traitor.‴

Vladimir Romchuk, 22, a Soviet army deserter in 1985 who was held by Afghan rebels until his release to the West in April, also looked at the official and said, ″Yes, I am a deserter in your eyes. But I am a happy person here.″

The man identifying himself as a Soviet official afterward called the news conference a politically orchestrated event that apparently had only ″a few cases″ in mind and not the welfare of all POWs left in Afghanistan.

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