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Diplomats report massacre in Afghanistan

NEW DELHI, India -- Soviet troops recently massacred more than 1,000 villagers in eastern Afghanistan in one of the bloodiest attacks since the Soviets invaded the country 5 years ago, Western diplomats said Tuesday.

The diplomats said Afghan officials asked the Soviets to allow Afghan troops to take part in the operation against suspected guerrillas in an effort to reduce the bloodshed but the Soviets refused.

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Diplomats from two Western embassies gave reporters separate briefings on condition they not be identified.

The reports could not be independently confirmed. Foreign reporters are not allowed to enter Afghanistan, where Islamic rebels are battling an estimated 115,000 Soviet occupation troops who invaded in 1979.

According to the diplomats, Soviet troops, backed by as many as 200 tanks and armored personnel carriers, attacked a dozen villages in Laghman province, east of Kabul, from March 11 to 18 in a search for rebels.

More than 1,000 civilians were killed, the diplomats said.

'Dead bodies were left lying everywhere,' one diplomat said.'Houses were looted and burned. And the inhabitants left their villages.'

The diplomats said the villages included Kas-Aziz-Khan, Charbagh, Bala Bagh, Sabzabad, Mamdrawer, Haider Khan and Pul-i-Joghi -- all in the Kharga district of Laghman.

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Three top Afghan officials in nearby Jalalabad asked the Soviets if Afghan troops could join the attack to reduce the death toll but the Soviets refused, diplomats said.

Representatives of the villagers approached one of the officials to complain about the massacre.

'He replied that the operation was undertaken because the villagers were supporting the Mujaheddin (Islamic guerrillas),' said one diplomat.

'But he gave permission for them to return to their villages and bury the dead,' she said.

The guerrillas, however, reappeared in the villages, prompting a second Soviet operation from March 22 to 26, the diplomat said.

'Again, a large number of civilians were killed,' she said, although the other diplomat could not confirm a second attack.

The Laghman massacre was 'one of the largest' by Soviet troops on civilians, one diplomat said.

Reports of Soviet attacks on civilians are becoming more frequent. On March 26, one diplomat reported the massacre of 900 villagers in northern Kunduz province.

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