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The BBC's James Menendez
"Relatives of the victims came on a special train from Warsaw"
 real 56k

The BBC's Mary Sibiersky in Warsaw
"Mourning the victims helps both countries to come to terms with their bloody and conflict-ridden history"
 real 28k

Sunday, 3 September, 2000, 02:27 GMT 03:27 UK
Stalin's Polish victims mourned
Polish woman at a grave
A Polish woman places a candle at a relative's grave
Russia and Poland have moved to heal their strained relations in a ceremony to commemorate the thousands of their countrymen killed 60 years ago by Soviet secret police.

Ministers from the two countries took part in the dedication of a memorial at a cemetery in Mednoye, 200km (125 miles) from Moscow, which contains the remains of some 6,000 Poles and 9,000 Russians.


Polish Prime Minister Buzek lays flowers
They were shot in the back of their heads in forests near Mednoye by the NKVD, a forerunner of the KGB, during World War II.

Their bodies were then dumped into mass graves.

Families also attended the ceremony.

Polish mourners, who boarded a special train from Warsaw for the ceremony, found anonymous notes written in Russian with the simple message: "Poles forgive us".

The cemetery is the third and last to be declared a memorial for the estimated 22,000 Poles - mainly military officers and civil servants - who the Soviets feared would be a threat to their control of Poland.

Reconciliation

It was hoped that the ceremony would help reconciliation between the estranged countries.


Let the suffering and the graves... become our joint memory and a warning for future generations

Polish Premier Jerzy Buzek
"What happened here should not have taken place," said Russian Interior Minister Vladimir Rushailo, quoted by the Polish news agency PAP.

"I am convinced there will be no more issues to cast a shadow over the relationship between our nations," he said.

Polish Prime Minister Jerzy Buzek also acknowledged the Russian suffering during the Soviet era.

Memorial wall listing Polish officers killed
A Polish honour guard at a memorial wall which lists Polish officers killed
"My Russian friends, you also have millions of graves scattered throughout your country," he said.

"Let the suffering and the graves spread all over Russia become our joint memory and a warning for future generations against treason and crime."

Prayers consecrating the cemetery were said by Catholic, Orthodox and Muslim clergy, and Polish members of an evangelical church.

Stalin's orders

The Soviets sent more than 1.5 million Poles to labour camps in Russia when they invaded Poland in 1939, under a secret pact with Germany's Adolf Hitler to carve up Eastern Europe.

Germany broke the pact and invaded Russia. The Nazis found the graves in 1943 and accused Russia of the killings.

Joseph Stalin
Joseph Stalin ordered the massacres
Russia denied responsibility, and for years blamed the Nazis.

In 1990, during the perestroika period of Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, Moscow admitted that the NKVD had carried out the killings.

The most notorious massacre was in forests outside the town of Katyn, near Smolensk.

In 1992, Moscow handed documents to Poland which showed Joseph Stalin's signature ordering the massacre.

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See also:

17 Sep 99 | Europe
Poland remembers Katyn dead
02 Sep 99 | Europe
Polish invasion remembered
12 Mar 99 | Europe
Poland's 'greatest prize'
01 Apr 98 | Europe
Stalin's archives to be opened up
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