A Peruvian forensics team has begun excavating a mass grave containing the remains of 123 men, women and children killed by the military 24 years ago.
Investigators in the highland village of Putis, in the southern province of Ayacucho, have exhumed 25 skeletons piled on top of each other among bullet and clothing fragments, said German Vargas, head of a group representing victims’ families.
Ayacucho was the epicentre of violence by Maoist Shining Path guerrillas as well as a brutal, state-sponsored counterinsurgency campaign in the 1980s and 1990s.
In 1984, according to a government-appointed truth commission, the military offered Putis as a safe haven for people fleeing Shining Path rebels in the region.
Soldiers then tricked villagers into digging their own grave and killed them on suspicion of ties to the guerrillas.
Mr Vargas said relatives are helping experts identify the remains and testifying in the chief prosecutor office’s probe of the massacre – possibly the largest from Peru’s bloody 1980-2000 conflict.
The investigation grew out of the truth commission, which recommended in 2003 that all military massacre sites be investigated and victims’ bodies exhumed, he said. So far, the government has been slow to do so.
An estimated 69,280 people died in the civil conflict. The commission blamed the Shining Path for a little more than half of the killings, and held the military responsible for massacres and widespread torture, rape and kidnapping of civilians.
The insurgency nearly brought the government to its knees in the 1980s and early 1990s, but faded after the capture of its leader, Abimael Guzman, in 1992.