Monday, March 23, 2009

Guatemala to open mass grave in search for war dead

Guatemala's biggest mass grave may give up its secrets this year when bodies from a massacre during the 1960-1996 civil war are exhumed after decades of mystery.

Following years of work in rural graves and battling for clues, official permits and funding, rights groups will start digging at a cemetery in Guatemala City, part of a healing process as Guatemala unearths victims of the long conflict.

Around 1,000 bodies in a mass grave at the La Verbena cemetery are thought to be the victims of extrajudicial killings by the army and police during some of the most violent years of the conflict.

"These are people who were taken to be questioned, interrogated, probably tortured," said Fredy Peccerelli, an activist leading efforts to exhume the bodies later this year with $1 million in aid from the United States and Europe.

"If they knew very little, (they were) killed quickly. If they knew a lot, they were held first for three to six months," added Peccerelli, who runs the non-governmental Forensic Anthropology Foundation and who worked in Bosnia after the 1992-95 Balkan conflict.

Almost a quarter of a million people were killed or disappeared during the conflict between leftist guerrillas and the government. Over 80 percent of the murders were committed by the army, according to a U.N.-backed truth commission.

Read the rest of the Reuters story here.

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