Poland extends amnesty for dissidents - to get itself off the hook

The Polish government is holding its amnesty door open longer than it had planned. In doing so, the regime hopes to avoid dissident trials that could only undermine its effort to win more public credence and support for its national recovery program.

The amnesty, introduced when martial law was lifted in July, expired Monday - without any final official figure of how many former Solidarity activists who continued activity thereafter have availed themselves of it.

About 550 are understood to have done so. They are mainly from the union's former middle-echelon officers. Only a few, who were captured before the amnesty offer or have surrendered since, were of national standing.

But the authorities now are more concerned with two more widely known groups already in custody since December 1981 (when martial law was imposed), who are awaiting trial on charges of conspiring to overthrow the government. They are:

* The four leading members of KOR (Social Self-Defense Committee), who were prominent in the 1980 strike movement and thereafter as political advisers to Solidarity.

* Seven members of Solidarity's national commission, held under arrest pending charges, when most martial law detainees were freed.

The government would like to see the backs of all 11 rather than bring them into open court. It has indicated that amnesty can be extended to give them an opportunity to leave the country.

An official announcement is expected later this week when parliament apparently will vote retroactively on a government-inspired proposal for prolonging the grace period. It may apply to the small but strongly militant union group that is still active underground.

But these underground activistshave apparently already scorned the offer by calling for sustained open protest through November on behalf of all political prisoners. Their call is unlikely to meet any major public response, but trials could have a different effect.

The authorities' obviously overriding desire to avoid such embarrassment has long been evident in the handling of the four KOR members. (More were originally involved, but one has already emigrated to the West, a second is at large, having jumped parole, and the trial of a third has been deferred because of age and health.)

The prosecution announced last February that its case was completed and the defendants might prepare their defense. Nothing more has been heard since then.

It is now said the self-emigration offer is open until the ''start of proceedings'' - and that those taking advantage of it will be able to return home to Poland once the country's internal crisis is resolved.

It is a politically ''soft-glove'' approach. But it is the only one open to Gen. Wojciech Jaruzelski if he is to avoid the undoing of his own ''moderate'' position and attempts at national conciliation. Beyond that, the trials could also harden anti-Polish attitudes in the West.

Some of the more experienced Western observers say the time has come for the West to take some of the heat off Poland on the issue of human rights. They point out that when all is said and done, the Warsaw regime is far from being among the world's worst offenders.

Under martial law and since, the violations - casualties, imprisonment, or worse - have not been on anything approaching the scale applied to political opponents in many other countries, including one member of the Western alliance (Turkey) and many of the US administration's friends in Latin America and elsewhere.

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