The remains of 29 missing people caught up in Colombia’s armed conflict have been handed over to their families for the first time in the country’s history.
The 29 bodies are part of a large group of 2,292 remains of suspected guerrillas who have been buried in five cemeteries scattered around Colombia’s eastern plains.
Around 200 families from various parts of the country came to the city of Villavicencio, on Thursday December 17, to receive the skeletal remains of men and women who were buried for several years as “unknown people” in different cemeteries, according to a statement from the office of the High Commissioner for Peace.
Within those graves there are not only bodies of insurgents, but also of victims caught up in the conflict, whose remains were never claimed.
These type of cases, referred to as “false positives”, could total 4,000 across Colombia, according to NGO Human Rights Watch,
With religious leaders of the Catholic, Protestant and Mennonite churches in attendance, the relatives of the deceased approached the coffin in which their family names were written next to a picture of their relative, offering a lit candle in their memory.
During the ceremony, Paula Gaviria, Director of the Unit for the Care of Victims of the Colombian government, lamented the death of the 29 people and thanked the families for being with them.
Carlos Valdes, director of Forensic Medicine, said the number of people killed in combat across the country exceeds 20,000. In most cases, the deceased were members of armed groups that ended up in mass graves.
According to experts the research, exhumation and identification of victims has taken years. Teams from both Bogotá and Tunja (a town in the Boyacá department) took part in the identification process.
The remains were subjected to DNA, anthropology, fingerprinting, dental and medical studies.
On October 17 the government and FARC delegations negotiated an end to the conflict, reaching an agreement in which they pledged to search for persons who disappeared in the armed conflict for over half a century.
Sergio Jaramillo, the High Commissioner for Peace, recalled the importance of the victims in the agreements to end the conflict between the government and the FARC in Havana, and assured them of the commitment to provide an answer to all the families who have lost their loved ones as a result of over 50 years of internal armed conflict.
“Within this effort we gave a privileged place to families who have lost loved ones on account of the conflict. There are many separated families. I know there are brothers and sisters here who have been reunited following the ceremony. That was what we wanted: that all families who do not know their loved ones, have an answer, although painful, at least they know what happened. And if possible, to receive their remains, “Jaramillo said.
“We have to move forward in hopes of seeing the prompt and immediate reparation and investigation of the facts of all this, the psychosocial support and that hopefully the search for the thousands of disappeared is continued,” commented Hugo Dario Maldonado, whose brother disappeared in 2007, according to a statement from the office of the High Commissioner for Peace.
The internal conflagration in the country has left at least 220,000 dead, in which leftist guerrillas, right-wing paramilitary and military forces have taken part.
Santos and FARC agree to seal a final peace agreement before March 23, 2016.