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Last Updated: Saturday, 21 May, 2005, 04:11 GMT 05:11 UK
Missing Chile troops feared dead
Chile's army rescue operation in the Andes
Rescue efforts are hampered by atrocious weather conditions
At least 41 Chilean soldiers who went missing in a fierce snowstorm in the Andes two days ago are almost certainly dead, Chile's army chief has said.

Gen Emilio Cheyre said the military exercise in southern Chile should never have gone ahead. He sacked a number of officers and ordered an investigation.

President Ricardo Lagos said at least 13 bodies had been recovered as the massive search continued.

Angry families of the missing have been blaming the army for the tragedy.

A total of 433 troops were hit by the unexpected blizzard on Wednesday on the slopes of the Antuco volcano in the Los Barros range, about 600km (360 miles) south-east of the capital, Santiago.

Most of the soldiers managed to hike out or were found safe and sound.

A group of more than 100 soldiers was waiting in a shelter for rescuers to reach them, the army said.

But their efforts are being hampered by continuing snowfall and sub-zero temperatures.

Three-day mourning

"We are all sad for those Chilean young men who died," a visibly moved President Ricardo Lagos said in his address to the nation.

"All Chileans in this moment of pain want the families, fathers, mothers and brothers to feel we are giving them comfort, to feel the human warmth of a country living a tragedy," the president said.

Mr Lagos declared three days of national mourning.

Among the missing and dead were soldiers drafted only a month ago.

"We will continue to work hard to bring them, dead or alive, to us and to their families," Gen Cheyre said.

"There was negligence and imprudence," Gen Cheyre said, adding that the army has done the exercise for decades.

"The march should not have been started, never, under those weather conditions," he said.

He announced that the regimental commander and two officers would be sacked.

Survivors at the local army headquarters in the town of Los Angeles recounted how they had to leave behind some of their comrades who were too exhausted to walk to safety.

There were angry scenes at the army headquarters, as families and friends of the missing demanded answers how such a tragedy could happen in the first place.

See pictures of the blizzard

Chilean troops in 'snow tsunami'
20 May 05 |  Americas
Foreign climbers die in Andes
23 Jul 03 |  Americas
Country profile: Chile
26 Mar 05 |  Country profiles

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