Peru delves into violent past: 49 “disappeared” victims exhumed in highland village of Huanta

Forensic experts began to exhume the bodies of 49 people found buried in four mass graves in 1984, after they were allegedly tortured and executed by Peruvian Navy officials, daily El Comercio reported Tuesday.

The mass grave of Pucayacu – located in the highland region of Ayacucho – was discovered on Aug. 23, 1984, containing the remains of 49 men and one woman.

“These findings are important especially since identifying victims has been very difficult,” said Dr. Yuber Alarcón. “We didn’t have the resources or the technology back then.”

Soon after the discovery, as DNA testing or other means of identifying the remains were unavailable in Peru, the bodies – already in an advanced state of decomposition – were buried in the cementary of Huanta. Many victims had their hands tied behind their backs, and some showed signs of torture. All had been stripped of their clothing and personal items.

“The Navy has ways to eliminate (people),” an ex-Navy officer told the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, or CVR. “We kill them naked so that they can’t be identified. Nothing, not even earrings, shoes, underwear, and the clothes are burned. The Army just buries them as is, and because of the clothing, they can be identified.”

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

More than 15,000 victims disappeared, many targeted by the police and armed forces.

But, since the Commission published its final report in 2003, less than 600 bodies have been recovered.

According to Peru’s Association for Human Developement, or ADEHR, it is more than likely that DNA testing lead to the identification of La Republica journalist Jaime Ayala Sulca. The journalist mysteriously disappeared after his arrest on Aug. 2, 1984, at the Navy facilities in Huanta. Ayala had complained about police conduct towards his mother. The Armed Forces Joint Command has always steadfastedly denied Ayala’s detention in Huanta, and information about his whereabouts has never been provided.

“We have to remember that the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights requested, in 1991, that the Peruvian government investigate and identify the bodies,” added Alarcón. “The Peruvian government made this commitment, therefore it has the duty not only to investigate, but to sanction those responsible for these disappearances.”

Those allegedly responsible for the massacre include former Ayacucho Military Chief Adrían Huamán Centeno, Lieutenant Commander Álvaro Francisco Serapio Artaza Adrianzén, and Lieutenant Augusto Gabilondo García del Barco.

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