Grieving families bury dead massacred by Peruvian military at Putis

The remains of 92 people murdered and buried in a mass grave by the Peruvian military in 1984 were laid to rest Saturday, nearly 25 years after one of the worst military massacres occurred in the remote Andean village of Putis.

The burials culminated a two-day funeral procession that departed from the highland city of Ayacucho, and ended in Huanta, some 48 kilometers, or 30 miles, away.

Dozens of families in traditional dress, as well as members of the International Red Cross, forensic experts, Ombudsman’s Office representatives and at least 30 journalists walked from Ayacucho to Huanta alongside a 10-car caravan carrying 92 white coffins.

Two weeks ago, amidst tears and cries of pain, the victims’ remains were returned to their loved ones.

But, of the 92 remains exhumed from the mass grave – of which at least 40 percent belonged to children and 41 percent to women – only 28 have been formally identified.

Peru’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission estimated that more than 69,000 people were killed during the nation’s 1980−2000 internal armed conflict, in which thousands of poor campesinos were caught in the crossfire between a bloody Maoist Shining Path insurgency and brutal government backlash.

In the case of Putis, according to testimonies gathered by the Commission, soldiers from the military base of Putis persuaded villagers from the towns of Cayramayo, Vizcatánpata, Orccohuasi and Putis, who in fear of rebel attacks had abandoned their homes and communities and fled higher into the mountains, to come to Putis to start a new life.

Held at gunpoint, the men were ordered to dig a large trench, ostensibly for trout farm pools. The villagers, including women and children, were then forced into the 7-by-4 and 2-meter deep pit and shot dead by the soldiers.

After the massacre, the military sold the villagers’ livestock and pocketed the proceeds.

Despite the testimonies to the Commission, and a soldier’s testimony published by La Republica daily in 2001, no one has yet been indicted. The military claims that all related documentation was destroyed in a fire.

“It’s completely unacceptable that not a single person has been indicted for these crimes,” said Peru’s Ombudswoman, Beatriz Merino. “The government has the inescapable obligation to demonstrate that it can render justice, identify those responsible and sanction them accordingly so that these horrendous crimes never happen again.”

The independently-funded Peruvian Forensic Anthropology Team, or EPAF, began the exhumation and a full video-documented investigation of the Putis burial site in May 2008. Other similar mass graves are suspected to lie beneath the vegetation inside Putis’ military base.

The excavation and DNA testing in Putis were funded by a grant from the Latin American Initiative for the Identification of the Disappeared, funded by the U.S. Department of State and its Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor.

EPAF, which is not funded by the Peruvian government, has already documented more than 13,000 disappearances and was the first to introduce international standards for a Forensic Anthropology Investigation in Peru in 2001, uses state of the art technology. Computer programs allow the scientists to determine with more than 70 percent accuracy the sex of a cadaver according to the dimensions of its skull.

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