Poland's key political prisoners prefer jail to keeping silent

Weeks of intensive behind-the-scenes negotiations for the release of political prisoners in Poland have hit a snag. The prisoners are balking at a government demand that their liberty be conditional on political silence.

The government, the Roman Catholic Church, the United Nations, and the prisoners themselves have been parties to talks under way since Easter. Polish officials offered variations of the original option to allow the prisoners to leave the country for a period of time, but they insisted that the prisoners forgo any political activity when freed.

It seems clear that the government is concerned that the problem of all political prisoners be solved without recourse to embarrassing trials, above all one involving its 11 principal detainees.

These are four former leaders of the KOR human rights group and seven Solidarity activists and advisers. Most have been under detention since martial law was applied in December 1981 and the subsequent banning of Solidarity.

Over the weekend, however, an apparently unanimous decision was made by the 11, rejecting any undertaking to refrain from political activity, even for a limited period.

Two weeks ago, Emilio de Olivares, on a special mission for UN Secretary-General Perez de Cuellar, spoke with both KOR and Solidarity detainees. The presence of Mr. de Olivares was a closely guarded secret until his return to New York. He is believed to have suggested that prisoners accepting emigration for a specified period - perhaps a year - have their return to Poland guaranteed by the United Nations.

A church proposal, however, is said to be for release within the country under pledges by the prisoners that they refrain from political activity for an agreed period.

According to Solidarity sources, this is similar to a reported government proposal that any such undertaking should run for a period of at least two years - although it is not clear if this is with reference to inside or outside the country.

One such proposal, in fact, is said to have been discussed between former KOR members and Solidarity advisers who are at liberty, and most of their 11 principal colleagues still in confinement.

Both dissidents and the Solidarity underground are divided among themselves how to react. The 11, however, have for some time taken a stand that release must apply to all political prisoners and detainees. According to the last official figures, there are 61 persons in this catagory. These include several Solidarity activists with sentences up to seven years, and several hundred who are under arrest pending possible charges and trial.

Not only the United States, but several of the leading West European governments - with whom Poland has now begun a return to normalization - consider the continued detentions an issue in the pressing questions of economic restrictions and a re-scheduling of Poland's formidable Western debts.

It is clearly of great importance to Warsaw that the Roman Catholic Church is again stressing its view that Western sanctions should be terminated. The Polish primate, Jozef Cardinal Glemp, will shortly be visiting the Pontiff in Italy for the 40th anniversary observance of the famous wartime battle at Monte Cassino, in which the Poles played so notable a part.

From the government's point of view, there is a certain ugency in seeing the negotiations over the prisoners brought to a speedy - and conciliatory - conclusion. It could have considerable domestic significance in the June 17 local elections, in which the government is clearly anxious to achieve a maximum voter turnout.

There is also a second important ''deadline'' ahead - the July 22 anniversary of this communist republic, when a general amnesty could be a major boost to Gen.Wojciech Jaruzelski's bid for national credibility.

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