Former Stalinist agent, 76, starts prison sentence in Estonia

TALLINN, Estonia --An elderly ex-secret police agent has begun serving a prison term for crimes against humanity, one of the few men in a former Soviet republic jailed for Stalinist repressions.

Karl-Leonhard Paulov, 76, was convicted earlier this year of crimes against humanity and sentenced to eight years in prison. Estonia's highest court has refused to hear an appeal.

Paulov was taken into custody Tuesday in the capital, Tallinn, without incident, police said.

Prosecutors said Paulov, then a young Soviet agent, followed orders to kill three members of the Estonian resistance movement after the Red Army invaded Estonia in 1940.

The victims were among thousands of people in the three Baltic states--Estonia, Lithuania and Latvia--who sought refuge in the region's dense pine forests, some seeking to avoid deportation, others to take up arms.

Millions were arrested, deported and executed during Josef Stalin's reign in Russia and in other former Soviet republics.

Other ex-agents have been convicted in Estonia, but Paulov is the first to serve time for crimes against humanity. Others received suspended sentences.

Paulov had pleaded not guilty, claiming he acted in self-defense, even though two of the victims were shot in the back.

Defense lawyers argued that Paulov had cancer and was too ill to serve a prison term.

Paulov's only remaining option would be a pardon from President Lennart Meri.

Meri, deported by Stalinist agents in 1941 at age 12, recently said shedding light on Stalinist repression was more important than punishment.

"We should not have an emotional relationship with our past but a rational one where, after suspects have had their day in court, we will also have the chance to forgive," he said.