KATYN, Russia — The presidents of Poland and Russia, marking the opening of a cemetery for thousands of Poles killed by Soviet security forces in 1940, vowed Sunday to seek reconciliation between their countries.
Poland's Lech Walesa laid the cornerstone at the cemetery in Katyn forest about 250 miles west of Moscow where 4,400 Polish army officers were shot and killed.
Walesa condemned the murder of 15,000 Polish army officers in all by Russian forces. But in a speech after an open-air Mass attended by hundreds of the victims' relatives, he praised Russia's decision to allow the cemetery to be built after long denying it was responsible for the massacre.
"It means pain and humiliation but at the same time hope as well," Walesa said after Poland's Roman Catholic primate, Cardinal Jozef Glemp, led the Mass in the pine forest nine miles from the western Russian city of Smolensk.
Russian President Boris N. Yeltsin declined an invitation to take part in the ceremony. But he sent a message of reconciliation read by Sergei A. Filatov, his chief of staff.
The message said that the ceremony would help "remove elements of mistrust and prejudice, left over from the past, from Russian-Polish relations."
The Katyn massacre--ordered in March, 1940, by the Soviet Communist Party's Politburo--has long cast a shadow over Moscow's relations with Poland.
The bodies of many of the 15,000 officers, who had been rounded up in Poland at the beginning of World War II and brought to Russia, have never been found.
Moscow, which long blamed Germany for the atrocities, finally admitted responsibility in 1990, when the Communist empire was collapsing.