50 Presumed Peru Army Victims to Be Dug Up 25 Years Later

LIMA -- The Peruvian Forensic Anthropology Team, or EPAF, will begin digging up on Monday more than 50 bodies from a common grave in the town of Huanta, presumed to have been killed in 1984 by the army during its war against the Shining Path guerrilla group, the private organization said.

Carmen Rosa Cardoza, an EPAF forensic expert, told Efe Friday that the work will be carried out between March 9-23, at which time DNA samples will be collected from the bodies to compare them with that of relatives to establish the identity of the remains buried in that town some 550 kilometers (342 miles) southeast of Lima.

Also to be on hand at the cemetery where the common grave is located will be the prosecutor of the city of Ayacucho, Andres Caceres, charged with handling the legal case that continues against the military chiefs of the region at that time.

After the work of taking samples is finished, they will be sent, according to Cardoza, to a lab in the United States, and it is possible that the results will not be known until the end of the year.

"It’s a long process, we have to speak to the families and when the disinterment is done, the Attorney General’s Office will set a date for beginning the laboratory analysis," the Peruvian forensic investigator said.

The case is known as "Pucayacu" for the town where 50 peasants were slain and buried by Peruvian soldiers, according to a report by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, or CVR, which investigated the years of terrorist violence between 1980 and 2000.

The National Criminal Court investigated the case, but decided to shelve it for lack of evidence, and the disinterred bodies were moved to a common grave in the cemetery at Huanta, which is the one now to be opened.

For that same reason, Cardoza said that until the studies are finalized it will be impossible to give an exact number of bodies that are buried there.

"We believe there are more than 50 people, but no one has a true figure -- even the CVR figure is an approximation," the EPAF member said, adding that this is "a very symbolic cemetery for the people of Huanta."

The prosecution in Ayacucha is investigating in this case ex-Gen. Adrian Huaman, military political chief of Ayacucho at that time, as well as ex-navy officer Gabilondo Garcia del Barco, commander of the Huanta Military Base when the incident occurred.

But the main suspect in the massacre, navy commander Alvaro Artaza, has not figured in the case since he disappeared in circumstances never really explained and was declared dead.

Over the next two weeks, this will not be the only case to be investigated by EPAF experts, because between March 11-12 the remains of two peasants will be analyzed who were supposedly killed by police in the town of Suso, also in the Ayacucho region.

And at the petition of the National Human Rights Committee, EPAF will examine a skull next Thursday to determine if it belonged to Angel Escobar Jurado, a defender of human rights who disappeared after being arrested by police on Feb. 27, 1990.

According to the CVR, the internal armed conflict left more than 69,000 dead at the hands of Shining Path, the Tupac Amaru Revolutionary Movement (MRTA) and the Peruvian police and armed forces.