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Decision time for Soviet POWs in Switzerland

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The young Soviet soldiers living on the beautiful 3,000-foot-high Zuger Berg in the heart of Switzerland, with a sweeping panorama of lake and Alps, have more to think about than the view.

A long, tough road lies behind these nine members of the Red Army. It stretches from their scattered Soviet villages through grueling imprisonment by Afghan freedom fighters to internment in faraway Switzerland.

As their internment comes to an end, the soldiers, who are about 20 years old , face a difficult decision: Should they return to the Soviet Union or ask for asylum in the West?

After World War II, the Soviet Union treated its returning prisoners of war badly. It is a widely held opinion that the Zuger Berg soldiers may face courts martial on their return as well as imprisonment.

Soviet dissident Vladimir Bukovsky, who now lives in the West, says: ''It is naive to think otherwise.''

But, no one knows if this will happen. The men have families, the life they know, back home.

Three are due to return to the Soviet Union on May 28 after two years of internment. The Swiss Foreign Ministry has confirmed that two may ask for asylum in the West. If they do, Switzerland may be accused of influencing them.

A tenth Soviet internee escaped from Zuger Berg nine months ago and is seeking asylum in West Germany.

Why are Soviet soldiers interned in Switzerland? It is probably the first time that prisoners of war have been transferred with agreement of the conflicting parties to an uninvolved third country.

For the Afghan rebels, operating under rugged conditions of guerrilla warfare , keeping prisoners is not easy. Imprisoned Russian soldiers live in fear of execution.


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