Polish WWII leader's death probe rules out shooting

30th January 2009, Comments 0 comments

The findings mirror those of a British medical officer's war-time examination of the body, which has long been questioned by Poles who doubt Sikorski was an accident victim.

Warsaw -- Experts probing the 1943 air-crash death of Poland's World War II leader said Thursday they had disproved conspiracy theories including a shooting, but shed little light on the disaster itself.

Forensic scientist Tomasz Konopka told reporters his team had not found any evidence to back theories that General Wladyslaw Sikorski was shot, strangled or stabbed.

"The general's remains show traces of numerous fractures, notably of the skull, ribs, an arm and a leg, which are typical in this kind of crash," he said in revealing the results of an autopsy.

The findings mirror those of a British medical officer's war-time examination of the body, which has long been questioned by Poles who doubt Sikorski was an accident victim.

Sikorski's remains were exhumed from a crypt in Krakow, southern Poland, in November.

The autopsy also brushed aside suggestions that the remains were not even his.

"It is the general's body. A comparison of his DNA with that of his great-niece Ewa Wojtasik confirmed that 99.92 percent," geneticist Tomasz Kupiec said.

Poland's Institute of National Remembrance, founded in 1998 to investigate historical crimes, launched the probe in September, saying available documents and wartime tensions with Moscow lent credence to the theory that he was killed on Soviet orders.

Prosecutor Ewa Koj said efforts would now shift to trying to establish why the plane went down.

Sikorski led a London-based government-in-exile set up after the Nazi German and Soviet invasion of Poland in 1939. He found himself grudgingly on Moscow's side after Germany attacked the Soviet Union in 1941.

He died aged 62 on July 4, 1943 when a British Royal Air Force plane crashed into the sea seconds after take-off from a British base at Gibraltar.

The Czech pilot, the sole survivor of 17 people aboard, told an RAF inquiry days later that his controls jammed, and it was never established why, according to declassified records.

A handful of factors have stoked conspiracy theories, including the presence of a Soviet diplomatic plane in Gibraltar on July 4, two other incidents involving aircraft carrying Sikorski and the fact that the head of British intelligence in the region was Kim Philby, who was later exposed as a Soviet mole.

In addition, many war-era British archives will be classified for another four decades under blanket secrecy rules -- although experts caution they may not contain anything about Sikorski.

Conspiracy sceptic Antony Polonsky of Brandeis University in the United States said London, as well as Moscow, should nonetheless release anything they have.

"One hopes that the British and Soviet archives will be available soon to give a definitive account of what happened," he told AFP.

Richard Butterwick of London University said that while declassifying the archives could help, the rumours would persist.

"Some people would still be incapable of accepting that Sikorski's death was anything as prosaic as a mere accident," he told AFP.

After becoming a Soviet ally in 1941, Sikorski signed a treaty with his erstwhile foe to free hundreds of thousands of Polish POWs into an exile army.

But the Soviets severed ties in 1943 when he demanded an inquiry into the "Katyn" massacre of thousands of others captured in 1939. Moscow blamed the Nazis for the killings, and only admitted them as the Soviet Union collapsed five decades later.

Moscow created a Polish communist government and put it in power in 1944 as the Red Army drove out the Nazis.

Sikorski's death sapped his government's authority in the West, making it easier for London and Washington in November 1943 to recognise the Soviet seizure of pre-war Polish territory, smoothing relations in the anti-Nazi camp.


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