Colombia speeds up efforts to find 28K in mass graves

Colombian chief prosecutor announces search to identify 28,000 victims of country’s long-running conflict has been intensified

Photo by: Reuters (Archive)
Photo by: Reuters (Archive)

Prison guards escorts handcuffed inmates looking for a pit in a rural area close to Chaguani, Colombia, June 18, 2015.

Colombia is intensifying efforts to identify some 28,000 victims of the country's long-running conflict whose bodies were dumped in unmarked graves.

In the coming weeks, judicial authorities will visit seven towns hit hard by decades of fighting and take testimony and blood samples from local residents to help forensic teams identify bodies.

The chief prosecutor's office said on Monday that over five years they have identified 897 of 1,017 bodies exhumed from unmarked graves in public cemeteries.

But that's almost a small fraction of the more than 28,000 bodies that the Interior Ministry has located in potters' fields and unmarked graves at 297 cemeteries nationwide.

"This hasn't been easy work," Digna Duran, deputy director of the victims unit at the chief prosecutors' office, told The Associated Press.
Known as NNs, for ningun nombre, or no name, the forgotten dead are among the most tragic victims of the conflict in Colombia. Many are believed to have been combatants themselves but are no less deserving of a Christian burial, said Duran.

Much of the investigative work to date has been concentrated in the eastern plains that the military cleared of rebel influence over the past decade.

Prosecutors say they can speed up the work because of an agreement between the government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia during peace talks last October.

The accord will compensate victims and facilitate truth-telling by combatants, removing the biggest obstacle to a final deal ending the half-century conflict.