Yeltsin declassifies KAL, massacre files


MOSCOW -- Shedding new light on the bloody legacy of Soviet Communism, Russian President Boris N. Yeltsin has released documents on two of its most heinous acts: the downing of a South Korean jumbo jet and the World War II mass murder of thousands of Polish officers.

Mr. Yeltsin called the 1983 willful destruction of the Boeing 747 "the most horrible catastrophe of the Cold War." He said Russia regards it as a "holy duty" to make all the facts known, including secrets contained in the doomed jet's flight recorder.

In the Kremlin, Mr. Yeltsin received a South Korean delegation headed by Deputy Transport Minister Chang Sang-hyun and handed over 12 previously secret documents relating to the destruction of the Korean Airlines flight on Sept. 1, 1983.

Mr. Yeltsin, in a separate ceremony, delivered the same files to U.S. envoys and was thanked by Ambassador Robert S. Strauss. Mr. Yeltsin said that he also received a message of gratitude from President Bush.

All 269 people aboard KAL Flight 007 were killed, including 61 Americans, when the Soviet MiG fired two missiles at the aircraft as it flew from Anchorage, Alaska, to Seoul, South Korea.

The raft of documents made public more than nine years later include a full transcript of the magnetic tape from the jetliner's flight recorder, Mr. Yeltsin said.

South Korean Foreign Ministry officials said they want more information to determine why the plane was shot down. At the time of the downing, Russian military officials accused it of spying.

The families of some of the victims attended the ceremony.

"It is a courageous act of President Yeltsin," said Hans Ephraimson-Abt, who lost his daughter Alice, 23, and is a spokesman for American relatives. "We think it is also a great gesture of his that Russia is joining the international community, in that despite political opposition, they are willing to address unpopular issues."

Also yesterday, a Russian official who was sent to Warsaw made public for the first time copies of documents signed by Soviet dictator Josef V. Stalin ordering the mass murder of 14,700 Polish officers in the Russian forest 52 years ago.

Polish President Lech Walesa's voice shook as he received the two beige cardboard files from Rudolf Pikhoya, Mr. Yeltsin's personal envoy. "We are witnessing the handing over of the most important documents concerning the cruel crime against the Polish nation," Mr. Walesa said. "My legs are trembling."

As well as documenting the Kremlin's direct responsibility for what is known as the Katyn massacre, the files also include orders to execute 11,000 Poles who were held in Soviet prison camps. The most incriminating papers, dated March 5, 1940, chronicle the ruling Politburo's vote, led by Stalin, in favor of the mass executions.

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