Bogota (AFP) – Colombia has located and exhumed the bodies of 9,000 people killed by far-right paramilitary groups during the country’s decades-long civil war, judicial officials said Wednesday.
According to the public prosecutor’s office, the bodies were found in mass graves which were located with the help of former members of the notorious AUC (Colombian Self-Defense Units), a paramilitary group funded by wealthy landowners to fight leftist guerrillas.
Such groups were disbanded between 2003-2006.
“The 9,000 bodies were found and exhumed with information provided by witnesses, members of criminal organizations (who testified within) the framework of the Justice and Peace law,” said Mery Conejo, director of the prosecutor’s transitional justice system.
She said the remains of 4,296 victims had been restored to their families in nine of Colombia’s departments, with most of them from the northeastern region of Antioquia and Magdalena in the north.
The AUC demobilized in 2006 and disarmed its 32,000 members as part of a peace deal reached with the government of then president Alvaro Uribe.
Those confessing under the so-called “justice and peace” law were entitled to a reduction in their sentences, allowing them to serve between five and eight years for their crimes.
Colombia’s five-decade conflict drew in paramilitary groups and state forces in what became a many-sided war fueled by drug trafficking, leaving about 260,000 people dead and seven million displaced.
In 2016, the government of President Juan Manuel Santos reached a historic peace agreement with Colombia’s biggest rebel group, the FARC, which has since transformed itself into a political party.
The deal foresaw the creation of a unit dedicated to the recovery and return of the remains of the missing and disappeared, which official sources say number around 83,000 people.