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Friday, May 28, 1999 Published at 21:35 GMT 22:35 UK


'Disappeared' reappear - but why now?

The long campaign for the return of the bodies may be over

By the BBC's Northern Ireland correspondent Tom Coulter

The controversy surrounding the location of the bodies of those murdered by the IRA has been a source of embarrassment for Sinn Fein and the IRA for many years.

The Search for Peace
The families of the disappeared, as they have become known, have long campaigned for the return of their loved one's remains so they could be given a dignified burial and ease the pain and uncertainty of what happened to them.

In March this year, the IRA admitted they had located the graves of nine people they abducted and killed in the 1970s and 1980s.

The IRA claimed most of those they had murdered had been giving information to the British security forces, an allegation denied by the victims' families.

Recognition of 'incalculable pain

Up to 16 people went missing during the '70s and early '80s but the IRA denies any involvement in the disappearance of seven of those people.

In a statement last March, the IRA recognised the "incalcuable pain and distress" they had caused their victims' families over a protracted period.

The passing of information to the British or Irish authorities by the IRA about the location of the bodies of their victims was delayed as Sinn Fein, the IRA's political wing, lobbied for immunity from prosecution for those involved.

[ image: Pollice recover a coffin on 28 May]
Pollice recover a coffin on 28 May
The British and Irish Governments passed legislation giving limited immunity saying the most important factor was the return of the bodies and easing the pain of the relatives.

The legislation and a joint British-Irish commission to oversee the return of the bodies came into being on 28 May.

As the Northern Ireland peace process enters a crucial phase, Sinn Fein will regard the return of the missing bodies as the republican movement playing its part in addressing human rights issues and trying to build confidence within the wider community that they are serious about the peace process.

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