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Colombia identifies thousands buried in unmarked graves

It is part of an effort by the government of Juan Manuel Santos to bring closure to decades of civil conflict, even though it rages on in some parts of the country.

By Sibylla BrodzinskyCorrespondent / May 27, 2011

Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos

JOHN VIZCAINO

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Bogota, Colombia

In Colombian cemeteries, whole sections are reserved for “NNs” (which stands for “ningun nombre” or “no name”), bodies found with no identification and no one to mourn them. Being buried as an NN used to mean the deceased were condemned to perpetual anonymity and the families of the missing to eternal questions about their fate.

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But a mammoth effort by the government of Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos has identified nearly 10,000 bodies buried as NNs in cemeteries across the country or from recently uncovered clandestine graves. By comparing morgue fingerprint records to a national ID registry, officials have been able to put a name to 9,968 unidentified corpses.

Many are presumed to be victims of the country’s four-decade-old conflict, dying at the hands of leftist guerrillas, rightwing paramilitaries, or rogue government forces. But only 445 of those identified are among the 57,854 reported disappeared, meaning there are at least 9,523 more unreported missing persons in the country.

Identifying the bodies was the good news. The bad news is that it was less than half of all the fingerprint records studied. Of the 22,689 unidentified persons studied in this effort, 12,724 could not be identified either because the print record was incomplete or smudged or the persons were not on the national registry. This led officials to conclude that as many as 4,210 were under 18, the age at which Colombians must register for a national identity card.

Officials will now attempt to contact the families of the newly identified corpses while investigators try to determine the cause of death.

It is part of a government effort to put some sort of closure to civil conflict, which, although continues, has diminished considerably. Colombia this week paved the way for displaced Colombians, numbering over 3 million, to receive compensation and millions of acres of land taken from them.

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