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USSR MUST FESS UP TO DOWNING KOREAN PLANE

If the Soviets are serious about sending conciliatory signals to the West, then there is one long overdue gesture that would help convince us they have put their duplicitous past behind them.

It would be an admission of guilt, and then payment of compensation, for the shooting down in 1983 of Korean Air Lines flight 007, with the loss of all 269 aboard.The passengers included a number of Americans, including a member of the U.S. House of Representatives.

It is not in question that the Boeing 747 had drifted off its planned Pacific course from Alaska to South Korea and into Soviet air space. But until now, everything else about the flight and its violent end has been in dispute as the Soviets layered the story with falsehood upon falsehood.

Initially the Soviets denied for five days that they had shot down the aircraft. What the Soviets did not know was that Japanese and American intelligence experts had an audiotape of the excited chatter of Soviet combat pilots as they were directed to the target by ground controllers.

The tape clearly recorded the report of the pilot who fired his rockets at the airliner, and his announcement that the target had been destroyed.

It was this tape, played by the U.S. delegation at the United Nations, that convinced the world the Soviets had indeed, as they belatedly admitted, "terminated" the flight of KAL 007.

Embarrassed by the world outcry, the Soviets charged that the airliner was on some kind of unexplained spying mission for the United States. This allegation was picked up and replayed by apologists for the Soviet Union in the West.

The Soviets charged that the Korean plane was suspiciously flying without lights. They claimed that before shooting it out of the sky with rockets, they fired warning tracer shots and tried talking to it by radio and Korean pilots ignored attempts to get it to land.

None of this was true.

Now reporters for the Soviet newspaper Izvestia have been attempting to reconstruct what happened.

The Soviet pilot who downed the Korean airliner, retired Lt. Col. Gennadi Osipovich, admitted to the paper that official claims were false.

The Izvestia reporters complained that their government, even eight years after the incident, was not forthcoming about the affair and had declined to release official reports about it.

Even the exact crash site has not been publicized. Relatives of those killed want to know where the plane went down so they can hold prayer services there.

They also want compensation for the bereaved families.

As the Soviet Union moves to eliminate past injustices and correct the communist distortions of history, it is time for it to set right the record on KAL 007 and make amends.