April 25, 2006

Dozens of Chile dictatorship victims were misidentified

By Fiona Ortiz

SANTIAGO, Chile (Reuters) - The bodies of dozens of
leftists killed early in Chile's 1973-1990 dictatorship may
have been given to the wrong families for burial, a mix-up that
has embarrassed the ruling center-left coalition.

President Michelle Bachelet, herself a former political
prisoner, named a special delegate to help families get correct
identifications of the bodies, and Congress has asked for an
investigation into possible criminal negligence.

Of more than 100 bodies dumped in a mass grave in
Santiago's general cemetery soon after Augusto Pinochet's
September 11, 1973, military coup, the state Forensic Institute
recently said new DNA tests showed it incorrectly identified

The institute's report was discomfiting for Bachelet, who
has close ties to human rights groups. Although she took office
only on March 11, she now faces complaints that her coalition,
in power since 1990, knew about the poor forensic work for

"It's important not to prejudge whether information has
been hidden or not," presidential spokesman Ricardo Lagos Weber
told reporters on Tuesday.

"President Bachelet has taken this very much to heart and
is following it very closely. We are guaranteeing that the best
efforts will be taken with the available resources to correctly
identify the victims," Weber said.

The existence of the corpses is unusual. An estimated 3,000
people died in political violence during Chile's 17-year
dictatorship, but many bodies were dumped into the ocean and
never recovered.

The bodies in this case were dug up in 1991 after the
country returned to democracy, and forensic experts used facial
reconstruction, fingerprints and dental records to identify
them as people arrested by the military in the national palace
during the coup and farmers taken on the outskirts of the