The Kerala massacre

The world must stand appalled at the cold- blooded massacre under Soviet orders that has virtually destroyed the village of Kerala in Afghanistan. As detailed in today's front- page dispatch, an estimated 1,170 unarmed male villagers, including young teen-age boys, were pitilessly shot and, while some were still alive, bulldozed into a mass grave. The facts are stark, but they have to be confronted by an international community with any pretense to concern for ordinary human decency, let alone human rights.

The killings, unverified until now, took place on April 20 last year. Kerala , which had a population of close to 5,000, is almost deserted. The women and few male survivors who fled are left to confirm the slaughter from their haunted memories.

What remains is the mass grave. What is required is an independent official investigation of the atrocity by an organization such as the Red Cross or the United Nations Commission on Human Rights.

No time should be lost. Recall the lingering controversy over the mass killing of Polish prisoners found buried in the Katyn forest during World War II. Moscow no doubt will seek to avoid responsibility for the Kerala murders as it did for the Katyn massacre. The world should have a full accounting before the grim trail grows cold.

The sort of ruthlessness displayed at Kerala may not be surprising in view of reports from Afghanistan indicating the continuation of it. An eyewitness told the Monitor of events last August in another village where he saw Afghan soldiers, accompanied by Soviet advisers, maiming children before killing five of them along with 28 adults.

Brutality toward even one individual ought to be too much for the conscience of humankind. The scale of the Kerala outrage cruelly dramatizes the suffering of each victim caught between the Soviet invaders and their totalitarian objectives.

Do the people of the Soviet Union want such acts carried out in their name? We cannot believe they do -- and not only because they have a populace of the bereaved to testify to Nazi brutality in the past. Two decades ago Soviet poet Yevgeny Yevtushenko seemed to touch the Russian people by accepting Russian guilt for anti-Semitism and for failing to memorialize the thousands of Jews killed by the Nazis at Babi Yar in the Ukraine. He wrote of himself as "a totally soundless shriek" over the buried victims.

There must be no soundless ignoring of the Afghanistan victims. Those tempted not to care cannot escape the thought in Yevtushenko's bygone words: "I am each old man that was slaughtered here/ I am each child that was slaughtered here./ Nothing in me can forget this."

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