Page last updated at 17:45 GMT, Tuesday, 2 September 2008 18:45 UK

Spain probes Franco-era missing

By Danny Wood
BBC News, Madrid

General Francisco Franco (courtesy of Spanish Embassy)
Gen Francisco Franco ruled Spain until his death in 1975

Spain has begun its largest inquiry into the fate of thousands of people who went missing during the 1936-39 civil war and rule of Francisco Franco.

Judge Baltasar Garzon has petitioned the Roman Catholic Church and local councils to send him the records they hold about people who disappeared.

About 30,000 bodies lie unidentified in mass graves around the country.

The aim of the census is to determine if the high court has jurisdiction to prosecute killers who are still alive.

Peace of mind

Many Spaniards were executed during the civil war seven decades ago or murdered afterwards by the nationalist forces of Gen Franco, who governed Spain until 1975.

During the transition to democracy in the 1970s, Spain's political parties agreed not to hold anyone to account for crimes committed during and after the civil war.

The conservative Popular Party is still so concerned about this recent past it opposed legislation that helps families locate the missing bodies of relatives, many of them dead for more than 70 years.

The first exhumation and identification of a mass grave containing victims of Gen Franco's forces took place 10 years ago.

This new investigation by Judge Garzon could be another important step towards peace of mind for thousands of Spanish families.

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