Afghan Communists Flee Despite Amnesty Offer

Communists worry that new Islamic rulers will purge former party members once disputes among rival mujahideen groups are resolved

THE sprawling television center in the Afghan capital is prison-like in appearance, surrounded by a high wall topped with barbed wire and dotted with several guard towers.

The high security reflects the importance placed on the mass media by Afghanistan's former Communist rulers, who were ousted by mujahideen rebels last month after 14 years in power. Not only was the center under heavy guard, but the most important jobs often were entrusted only to members of the Watan Party, the successor of the Afghan Communist Party.

Many former members of the party are still on the job at the television center while the new Islamic government settles into power. Things seem to be operating smoothly, as people go about preparing scripts and editing tapes on state-of-the-art German equipment. But looming above the air of normality is an atmosphere of fear.

Many are concerned that those who served the party soon may be removed from the television center and placed in a real prison, or face a worse fate - execution, they say in hushed tones.

"I want to leave Afghanistan," whispered one employee who says he belonged to the Watan Party. "If I don't leave soon, I'm afraid I will be killed."

Officially the Islamic government has offered amnesty to all former party members, except former President Najibullah, who has taken refuge at a United Nations compound in Kabul. The mujahideen leadership is holding Najibullah responsible for all the atrocities committed by the former Communist regime.

But few former party members or foreign diplomats are taking the amnesty offer at face value. Once the fragmented mujahideen leadership settles its internal disputes, they say, it will seek retribution against those it fought during the 14-year civil war.

The communists have ample reason to be worried, several foreign diplomats say, pointing to the fate of Afghanistan's former chief justice, Karim Shardan. Earlier this month, Mr. Shardan was kidnapped, tortured, and killed. His body was found riddled with bullets in the middle of a muddy road. As the head of the communist's court system, Shardan sentenced many of the regime's opponents to death or long prison terms, and was thus a prime target for revenge. The chief justice's murder sent shock waves throu gh the former leadership, one envoy says.

"There is a growing fear of a witch hunt," says another diplomat. "Those with reasons to leave Afghanistan should do so now."

Some former top officials have already heeded the diplomat's advice. Abdul Wakil, the former foreign minister, has fled to Moscow, according to an official at the Afghan Embassy in the Russian capital. Some also reportedly were trying to make their way to safe havens in the former Soviet Central Asian republics, says one diplomat, adding that others have gone into hiding in Kabul.

In addition, a few top communists, reportedly including Defense Minister Shah Nawaz Tanai, have found refuge in the camp of renegade mujahideen leader Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, whose Hezb-e-Islami group has refused to join the government. An ethnic Pushtun, Mr. Hekmatyar apparently has allied himself with several Pushtuns from the communist government to strengthen his bid to wrestle power from the government. Pushtuns are battling for influence in the Islamic government with several other ethnic groups, incl uding Tajiks and Uzbeks.

Even some noncommunists, who joined the government after Najibullah launched a national-reconciliation policy more than five years ago, are now worried about their fates.

"I personally don't think the mujahideen will seek revenge, but they can take it if they want," says one noncommunist who served in the old government, speaking on condition of anonymity.

If the former communists find a way to leave, it appears the Islamic government will do nothing to stop them for the time being.

"There is no rule to prevent people from leaving Kabul and I am personally not against it," says Defense Minister Ahmed Shah Masoud, who has emerged as the most powerful figure in the new government.

But others in the Islamic leadership appear to be preparing for a communist purge. Among the first decisions adopted by the Islamic governing council, one of the main organs of power in Afghanistan, was a resolution to ban the Watan Party, confiscate its property, and establish a Supreme Court.

The court should be used to bring "traitors and invaders" to justice, says government spokesman Ayatollah Asef Musseini, adding that he does not view the establishment of the special judicial body as contradicting the amnesty offer. "Amnesty is what the state gives to everyone," he says. "But individuals who want to seek justice against those who violated their rights may do so in the Supreme Court."

Though many former communists are hoping to leave the country before the Supreme Court starts functioning, some are determined to stay in Afghanistan no matter what comes.

"I'm not planning to leave under any circumstances," says one Kabul doctor. "My place is by the side of my patients."

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