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Bulgaria keeps its rebuttal low-key

Western observers here have noted with some surprise the moderation with which official spokesmen and the news media have handled the allegations of a ''Bulgarian connection'' to the shooting of Pope John Paul II in Rome in May 1981.

They have seemed to combine point-by-point rebuttal of the prosecution's case against a Bulgarian airline official, held by the Italians as a suspect, with relatively low-key counterallegations that the affair is part of a ''crusade aginst communism'' by President Ronald Reagan.

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But the Bulgarians have sometimes appeared to be more embittered by US accusations that they have been heavily engaged in drug smuggling operations between the Near and Middle East and the Western world.

In June Sofia Radio devoted a special program to disavowing US charges before a House subcommittee that some 25 percent of the heroin smuggled into the US passes through Bulgaria.

The broadcast acknowledged that, because of its geographic position, Bulgaria could be seen as a natural transit point for international smugglers. But it was said that Bulgaria was well known for its intensive efforts to intercept and halt drug traffic at its borders.

Moreover, the program noted, Bulgaria's antinarcotics organization has frequently been lauded at international conferences by various organizations, including American, for its work and cooperation.

''More than once,'' said a customs inspector at the Kapitan Andreevo control point on the Bulgarian-Turkish border who was brought into the program by telephone, ''have officers of the US Customs administration come here to praise us as an outpost in the fight against drug smuggling.''

Already this year, the inspector said, three big consignments of heroin had been detected. In the past 10 years, it was said, the border control had detected 692 attempts at smuggling a total exceeding 17,000 kilograms of drugs.

Most of the smugglers, he said, were Arabs, Turks, and Pakistanis, but they also included West Germans, Austrians, Americans, and English.

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''These may have become smugglers for the sake of money,'' it was said, ''but the heads of criminal gangs are behind them.''

It was also stressed that, until some years ago, smugglers were trying to traffic in big quantities - even tons of hashish. Because of advances in processing and concentration of drugs, consignments are smaller now and detection is more difficult.

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