Page last updated at 22:05 GMT, Tuesday, 24 February 2009

DNA identifies Peruvian victims

By Dan Collyns
BBC News, Lima

Map of Peru

Investigators in Peru say they have for the first time successfully used DNA to identify victims of the country's civil conflict in the 1980s and 1990s.

The technique identified 23 victims, who were buried in Peru's largest mass grave in 1984.

The director of the Peruvian forensic anthropology team, Jose Pablo Baraybar, said they expected to identify several more victims in the next few weeks.

Some 70,000 people died in the conflict between the military and Maoist rebels.

The 23 positively identified human remains are the single largest group of victims identified from the conflict in Peru.

These victims formed part of a larger group of more than 120 men, women and children killed in a single massacre by the Peruvian military.

Victims tricked

According to Peru's truth and reconciliation commission, dozens of internally displaced peasants came down from mountain hiding places when Peruvian soldiers offered them shelter in the village of Putis, in the southern Ayacucho region.

They were then tricked by the army into digging their own grave - which they were told would be a trout pond - before being killed.

After the massacre, the soldiers sold the villagers' cattle. Only a tiny portion of Peruvians estimated to have disappeared in the "dirty war" have ever been accounted for.

The commission found that nearly 70,000 people had been killed or had disappeared during the war between 1980 and 2000.

No-one has yet been convicted for the massacre at Putis.

The army has remained silent on the issue neither admitting nor denying responsibility.

However this year, five former army officers are expected to be charged with crimes related to this and other atrocities which took place in the 1980s.

The exhumation and DNA sampling was partially funded by the US state department.

Mr Baraybar, who led the exhumation in Putis last year, says he hopes the identification will increase pressure for a trial for those responsible and help the victims' relatives deal with their grief.

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