Afghan tells of heavy Soviet hand in civilian brutality

By , Staff correspondent of The Christian Science Monitor

An Afghan police colonel who left Afghanistan late last year says that under Soviet supervision, thousands of Afghans have been imprisoned, tortured, and executed.

Col. Muhammad Ayub Assil asserts that hundreds of thousands of deaths have resulted from the Soviet invasion.

The tall, slender Colonel Assil has now joined the Afghan resistance. He says that the mujahideen, or freedom fighters, are not against a political solution in Afghanistan, but that without the use of further military force against the Soviets, this will never be achieved.

Recommended: How well do you know Afghanistan? Take our quiz.

Recent reports from Pakistan have suggested that a United Nations-sponsored agreement on Afghanistan, worked out through talks in Geneva, might be within grasp. At the same time, reports from Afghanistan itself indicate that the Soviets and the Afghan forces working with them have launched new military offensives in recent weeks. One theory has it that the Soviets are trying to inflict a maximum number of casualties on mujahideen guerrillas before the next round of peace talks set for June 16 in Geneva.

Assil's visit to Washington was under the joint auspices of the Afghanistan Relief Committee and Freedom House, an organization that monitors political rights and civil liberties. On June 7, the colonel testified before a closed session of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence. He has been interviewed as well by Amnesty International, the London-based human rights organization.

In a newsletter earlier this year, Amnesty International expressed concern over reports of two massacres occurring last year in areas south of the Afghan capital of Kabul. In one incident, 120 unarmed villagers were reported to have been killed by Afghan government troops. In the other incident, the number of unarmed civilians killed was put at 105.

US State Department officials said, meanwhile, that in late April and early May, Soviet aircraft bombed villages around Herat, Afghanistan's third-largest city, and extended the bombing into the city itself. The officials said reports from Afghanistan indicated that more than 1,000 civilians were killed in the bombing.

State Department officials say that there is no way of obtaining exact figures on civilian casualties in Afghanistan. It is a nation that has been notorious for its lack of reliable statistics. Population estimates for the South Asian nation range between 14 million and 18 million. But enough reports have been accumulated from a variety of sources over the 3 1/2 years since the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan to provide evidence of widespread brutality.

Assil was director general of passport and visa services prior to the Communist-led coup of 1978. Trained in Egypt and Japan, he taught penal law and criminal law at Kabul University. After placing him under house arrest for a few months, government officials asked him to cooperate with the Soviet-backed regime. On instructions from one of the main Afghan resistance groups, he agreed to make a pretense of cooperating, he said. But he added that he resisted pressure to join the Communist Party.

Assil said that through his contacts with police officials, he was able to observe firsthand Soviet control over the powerful Ministry of Interior and Soviet participation in the torture of imprisoned civilians. Soviets were present in every interrogation team, he said.

''They are specialists in torture,'' said Assil in an interview.

The police colonel said that the methods of torture included beatings, the denial of sleep, electric shock, the hanging of prisoners upside down from rings , and the placing of prisoners inside large hospital refrigerators. He said that women prisoners were frequently raped.

Assil asserted that at one main prison alone, Pul-i-Charkhi, outside Kabul, the Afghan regime has executed between 80,000 and 100,000 people. The colonel said the Afghan resistance has informants in the prison.

''In every place, we have friends who belong to the resistance,'' he said.

Assil now works as security and legal adviser to a major resistance group, the Islamic National Front of Afghanistan. He said he fled Afghanistan after he was assigned last September to lead a delegation to Mecca.

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