Hopes for closure as Colombia unearths mass grave

Families of those who disappeared during decades-long civil conflict await exhumation of mass grave in Medellin.


    Medellin, Colombia - Colombia's civil violence began in 1948, with the ensuing decades pitting government paramilitary forces against leftist rebels.

    Rural areas like the Comuna 13 slum here in Medellin often saw the worst of the fighting, with both sides scrambling for land control during the decades-long civil conflict.

    In 2002, the government carried out military operations that ended in as many as 300 people being buried in the La Escombrera landfill, killed by paramilitary groups and state security forces.

    These days, long lines of family members trudge towards La Escombrera, which doubled as a present-day facade for one of Colombia's mass graves - the largest in the country, some believe.

    The marchers are accompanied by black cut-outs shaped like human silhouettes.

    On these, families have written the names of relatives who disappeared during the conflict.

    Both an open secret and a wound of history, La Escombrera was never addressed until now.

    As authorities begin exhuming the grave, families are hoping for both final closure and an end to impunity.


    "I don't expect to find his entire body," said Luz Elena Galeano, wife of a "disappeared" Colombian.

    "But hopefully we'll be able to find something to punish those responsible for this."

    Wearing matching shirts and holding hands, family members gather by the La Escombrera landfill to mark the beginning of the exhumation.

    A team of forensic experts will start unearthing the site, but the waste that has been dumped here over the years will not make it an easy task.

    Carlos Villamil, a prosecutor for transitional justice, believes it was difficult for the Colombian government to act sooner.

    "Today we have new legislation, also the reduction of violence means we can reach these areas," he said.

    "So I would say our response is in accordance to the evolution of the conflict."

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera


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