Peru: massacre victims exhumed in Ayacucho

Investigators from the Fiscalía, Peru's public prosecutor, exhumed 21 bodies from four mass graves in a remote area of Ayacucho region, the office announced Sept. 15. The find was made at the hamlet of Belen Chapi, in the Paccha area of Chungui district, in a zone of high jungle known as the Oreja de Perro which had been a stronghold of the Shining Path rebels in the 1980s. The victims were members of a peasant community who were summarily executed by security forces on July 14, 1984. The remains included those of nine children; a pregnant woman, whose fetus was counted among the 21 dead; four other women; and six men. Authorities will now begin the work of identifying the bodies, as well as naming the members of the army and National Police who were responsible for the massacre. The remains of nine other community members said to have been killed that day remain missing.

Investigators were led to the spot by Dolores Guzmán, the sole survivor of the massacre. She said she was spared because one of her cousins was a police guide. The day after the killings, she was marched out of the police-occupied hamlet and released. The cost of keeping her life was to prepare a last meal for the condemned. She cooked sweetened pumpkin and personally fed each detainee because their hands were bound behind them.  No one begged for mercy, Guzmán told a reporter from the Associated Press. But the silence broke when the killing began, she said. "The children cried the loudest."

Peru's Prosecutor General estimates 15,000 people were detained and disappeared between 1980 and 2000, most of them peasants suspected of collaborating with the Shining Path. So far the remains of 3,000 victims have been unearthed from clandestine graves; half of them have been identified. (AP, Sept. 18; Prensa Latina, Sept. 17; EFE Sept. 15)