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Monday, 8 April, 2002, 22:23 GMT 23:23 UK
Peruvian peasants recount atrocities
Truth commission members listen to testimonies
Dozens of peasant women attended the hearings
A truth commission in Peru has begun public hearings into atrocities and human rights abuses committed in the country during two decades of civil conflict.

Peruvian peasant women held back tears as they gave nationally televised testimonies of the violence during Peru's era of terrorism, in which 30,000 people died and about 6,000 disappeared.

Angelica Mendoza, 72, described in her native Andean Quechua language how hooded soldiers seized her son from his bed in 1983.

Andean women watch televised testimony of Angelica Mendoza
The testimonies are being transmitted on national TV
They dragged him away accusing him of being a member of the Marxist Shining Path rebel group. He was never seen again.

Dozens of women attended the first day of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission's hearings at a university in Huamanga, near Ayacucho, where the Shining Path guerrilla group was formed.

The public airing of their stories aims to shed light on atrocities committed between the mid-1980s and early 1990s, when government troops battled violent guerrilla groups seeking to impose communism.

"I never thought that this moment would arrive... It is important for everyone to know the brutality that took place. I can't comprehend how another human being can brutally hurt another so much," said one testifying victim, Liz Marcela Rojas.

Another woman, Liz Valdez, 22, told the commission how police raped her mother and tortured her to death in 1991.

"I know who did this, I have the name, the photo, but I've never said it out of fear," she told the Reuters news agency.

Atrocities

Some of the crimes the commission will be examining are horrific, with victims recounting how they were forced to watch savage executions of their relatives.

A Quechua-speaking Indian in the Andean town of Ayacucho discusses how she will approach Peru¿s Truth and Reconciliation Commission
Many of the victims were Andean peasants

"What is absolute, what is definitive is that people were unjustly killed and human rights were violated. We are not trying to open Pandora's box, we are trying to air things that have been forgotten and stink," the head of the commission, Salomon Lerner, told the Reuters news agency.

The commission - which was set up last year and is expected to end its inquiry next year - also has a mandate to identify the missing people and compensate the victims.

The violence raged for two decades and spanned three elected governments.

Shining Path rebels terrorised villages by massacring peasants who refused to join their fight.

The Peruvian army responded by launching an onslaught against the rebels, and is accused of many atrocities.

The army is also suspected of often burying the guerrillas in mass graves to cover their tracks.

The violence wound down in 1992 after the government captured the founder of Shining Path, Abimael Guzman.

See also:

26 May 01 | Americas
Peru to create truth commission
14 Mar 01 | Americas
Peru experts examine exhumed rebels
25 Mar 01 | Americas
Death squad arrests in Peru
11 Mar 01 | Americas
Fujimori accused of murders
08 Apr 02 | Americas
Peruvian peasants recount atrocities
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