Authorities in Panama on Monday began exhuming a mass grave containing the remains of unknown civilians killed during the 1989 US invasion of the Central American country.
The move follows a decades-long effort by families of missing people to identify remains buried in a common grave in the capital’s Jardin de Paz cemetery.
“Finally, after 30 years, it is possible by judicial means, to recover unknown bodies buried in a common grave,” said Jose Luis Sosa, who heads a commission investigating human rights violations committed during the invasion.
“Families have been looking for their relatives for the past 30 years and the state has not given them an answer,” Sosa said.
The exhumations follow the reopening of investigations into the circumstances in which civilians were killed during the December 20, 1989 invasion.
Officials said the exhumations would be carried out to identify the remains and determine the cause of death. The work is likely to last about two months.
Then-US President George HW Bush sent 27,000 US troops into Panama on December 20, 1989, to capture Manuel Noriega, the country’s military dictator, who had been indicted in the US for drug trafficking.
More than 500 people were killed in the invasion, according to official figures, though some organisations put the number of dead in the thousands.