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Last Updated: Monday, 23 May, 2005, 12:13 GMT 13:13 UK
Chile buries Andes storm victims
Chilean general presents relative of a dead soldier with a Chilean flag
Forty-five conscripts are believed to have died
The first funerals of Chilean soldiers killed in a fierce Andes snowstorm last Wednesday have taken place.

Five more bodies have been recovered taking the confirmed death toll up to 26. Officers say there is little hope for the 19 men still missing.

Angry relatives have accused army officers of abandoning them.

The tragedy occurred when hundreds of troops were hit by a blizzard on a mountain range south-east of the capital, Santiago.

A number of officers have been sacked, and military and civilian investigations have been launched into the tragedy.

The officer just let 28 kids fall and went on to the shelter
Gloria Bastias, victim's mother

A total of 433 troops were on the slopes of the Antuco volcano in the Los Barros range, about 600km (360 miles) south-east of Santiago when the snowstorm struck.

Most of the soldiers managed to find their way out or were later found safe and sound.

President Ricardo Lagos paid tribute to the troops in an address to the nation, and declared three days of national mourning.

He attended a memorial service for 13 of the dead who lay in flag-draped coffins at a nearby army base in the southern city of Los Angeles.

"These are the heroes," Edmundo Vivanco, uncle of one of the dead soldiers, said at the service, quoted by Reuters news agency. "The miserable villains are the officers that lived."

'Miracle needed'

Army chief Gen Emilio Cheyre said hope for the missing men was all but lost.

President Lagos comforts the relative of one of the dead soldiers
President Lagos (L) has declared three days of national mourning

"I'm convinced they are dead," he said. "Only by a miracle will we find any alive."

Grieving relatives who came to identify the bodies of those confirmed dead said they had been neglected by the officers who were supposed to look after them.

"My son and his companions were abandoned by the officers," Reuters quoted Gloria Bastias, who son Jonathan is among those believed dead, as saying.

"They were coming down together in a group and people were falling. The officer just let 28 kids fall and went on to the shelter."

She said a survivor had told her how her son fell into the snow and how recruits had struggled with officers.

All the officers on the expedition appear to have survived.

Relatives have been waiting in a gym in Los Angeles since Wednesday for news of the missing.

See pictures of the blizzard

In pictures: Chilean army tragedy
21 May 05 |  In Pictures
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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