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KGB RETURNS BELONGINGS OF DIPLOMAT ARRESTED IN ’45, INSISTS HE DIED IN ’47

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A KGB official handed over the personal effects of Raoul Wallenberg to his relatives nearly 45 years after the Swedish diplomat was arrested by the Soviets in Budapest, and insisted he had died in jail.

Soviet officials also for the first time expressed remorse about the arrest of Wallenberg, who saved tens of thousands of Jews from Nazi gas chambers during World War II."The detention of Wallenberg was a tragic mistake," Foreign Ministry spokesman Gennady Gerasimov said Monday in a press briefing.

Wallenberg's half-sister, Nina Lagergren, received the passport, driver's license, address book, calendar and cash her half-brother carried when he was arrested in January 1945.

"It was terribly emotional to see his handwriting and his photograph and his identity papers," Lagergren said.

Family and friends from the Raoul Wallenberg Association in Stockholm were in Moscow at the Kremlin's invitation looking for clues about the fate of the Swedish diplomat, who would have been 77 Tuesday.

The move to clarify what has become a diplomatic embarrassment for the Soviet Union came under the political reforms of President Mikhail S. Gorbachev. Previous governments attempted to ignore the case.

The delegation gave the Soviets a list of reported sightings of Wallenberg in Soviet prison camps and were to meet with officials twice more this week, according to Per Anger, head of the association. He refused to say when and where Wallenberg was last reported seen.

But, dashing hopes that the Kremlin might have new information on Wallenberg's fate, the Soviets clung to their decades-old assertion that he died of a heart attack in 1947 at Lubyanka, the KGB prison in Moscow.

Human rights activist Andrei Sakharov and his wife, Yelena Bonner, have made several trips to prison camps in search of Wallenberg, but never turned up anything.

Lagergren, however, said she believes Wallenberg still is in isolation at a Soviet prison, his identity long covered up.

"We are confident that he has been able to survive," she said.

Anger, a colleague of Wallenberg in Hungary, said Kremlin officials serving now may be genuinely ignorant of Wallenberg's fate.

"We think it's difficult to find people in the gulag," he said, referring to the Soviet prison camp network.

The only proof of death offered by Vladimir Pirozhkov, deputy chief of the KGB, and Deputy Foreign Minister Valentin Nikiforov was a doctor's letter reporting the death, which was announced in 1957.

Pirozhkov told the group Wallenberg's personal effects were found in KGB headquarters in Lubyanka last month, said Guy von Dardel, Wallenberg's half-brother.