Photos: Guatemala’s war-era mass graves reveal forgotten dead

During Guatemala's 1960-1996 civil wars, the government isolated tens of thousands of farmers into 'model villages' and later left to die from malnutrition and treatable illnesses. Now, in the hamlet of Santa Avelina, bodies are being unearthed, identified and reburied. Exhumations began in 2014 and in late November forensic anthropologists handed over remains of 172 people who perished during years of military control.

UPDATED ON JAN 01, 2018 02:58 PM IST 12 Photos
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Ixil Mayans carry the remains of their loved ones for burial in Guatemala. It wasn’t only bullets and violence that killed thousands of indigenous people during 1960-1996 civil wars. The governments forced tens of thousands of farmers into model villages under strict army control to isolate them from guerrillas but instead were left to die of malnutrition and treatable illnesses. Now, in the hamlet of Santa Avelina, their bodies are being unearthed, identified and reburied. (Luis Soto / AP)

Ixil Mayans carry the remains of their loved ones for burial in Guatemala. It wasn’t only bullets and violence that killed thousands of indigenous people during 1960-1996 civil wars. The governments forced tens of thousands of farmers into model villages under strict army control to isolate them from guerrillas but instead were left to die of malnutrition and treatable illnesses. Now, in the hamlet of Santa Avelina, their bodies are being unearthed, identified and reburied. (Luis Soto / AP)

UPDATED ON JAN 01, 2018 02:58 PM IST
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During the decades-long war, the army identified the Ixil indigenous region as the support base of the Guerrilla Army of the Poor. Thus, the region became a testing ground for the kind of ‘strategic hamlet’ program used by the US in Vietnam. In 1980, the army formed one of the first model villages in Santa Avelina. But without access to doctors, a healthy diet and freedom, people began to die. (Luis Soto / AP)

During the decades-long war, the army identified the Ixil indigenous region as the support base of the Guerrilla Army of the Poor. Thus, the region became a testing ground for the kind of ‘strategic hamlet’ program used by the US in Vietnam. In 1980, the army formed one of the first model villages in Santa Avelina. But without access to doctors, a healthy diet and freedom, people began to die. (Luis Soto / AP)

UPDATED ON JAN 01, 2018 02:58 PM IST
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Villagers place the remains of their relatives in niche graves at a cemetery in Guatemala. There is no official figure of how many people died of hunger and untreated diseases in the model villages, but there were more than 45 such villages, according to a report titled Recovery of Historic Memory prepared by the Roman Catholic Church, and Santa Avelina was just one of them. (Luis Soto / AP)

Villagers place the remains of their relatives in niche graves at a cemetery in Guatemala. There is no official figure of how many people died of hunger and untreated diseases in the model villages, but there were more than 45 such villages, according to a report titled Recovery of Historic Memory prepared by the Roman Catholic Church, and Santa Avelina was just one of them. (Luis Soto / AP)

UPDATED ON JAN 01, 2018 02:58 PM IST
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Exhumations in Santa Avelina started in 2014 and in late November forensic anthropologists handed over the remains of 172 people who perished during the years of military control. Their bones and tattered bits of clothing were re-buried individually by surviving family members after over more than three decades in anonymous mass graves. (Luis Soto / AP)

Exhumations in Santa Avelina started in 2014 and in late November forensic anthropologists handed over the remains of 172 people who perished during the years of military control. Their bones and tattered bits of clothing were re-buried individually by surviving family members after over more than three decades in anonymous mass graves. (Luis Soto / AP)

UPDATED ON JAN 01, 2018 02:58 PM IST
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A portrait of Pedro Gomez Marroquin lays on his coffin during a memorial and burial of people who died during the civil war in Santa Avelina. An estimated 250,000 people were killed or disappeared during Guatemala’s civil war, overwhelmingly by violence at the hands of soldiers, according to the United Nations. (Luis Soto / AP)

A portrait of Pedro Gomez Marroquin lays on his coffin during a memorial and burial of people who died during the civil war in Santa Avelina. An estimated 250,000 people were killed or disappeared during Guatemala’s civil war, overwhelmingly by violence at the hands of soldiers, according to the United Nations. (Luis Soto / AP)

UPDATED ON JAN 01, 2018 02:58 PM IST
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Forensic anthropologist Dany Guzman holds a skull exhumed from a mass grave. According to him, in Santa Avelina the vast majority of the bodies presented no sign of violent injuries, indicating the victims perished from illness, malnutrition and other causes. (Luis Soto / AP)

Forensic anthropologist Dany Guzman holds a skull exhumed from a mass grave. According to him, in Santa Avelina the vast majority of the bodies presented no sign of violent injuries, indicating the victims perished from illness, malnutrition and other causes. (Luis Soto / AP)

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A forensic anthropologist holds earrings that belonged to 6-year-old Maria Poma Perez, who was exhumed from a mass grave. Yeni De Leon of the Foundation for Forensic Anthropology, which was in charge of the exhumations, said about 45% of the 172 bodies exhumed in Santa Avelina correspond to children aged 12 and under. (Luis Soto / AP)

A forensic anthropologist holds earrings that belonged to 6-year-old Maria Poma Perez, who was exhumed from a mass grave. Yeni De Leon of the Foundation for Forensic Anthropology, which was in charge of the exhumations, said about 45% of the 172 bodies exhumed in Santa Avelina correspond to children aged 12 and under. (Luis Soto / AP)

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Clothing, earrings and a doll that were found among the remains of over 100 Ixil Mayans exhumed from a mass grave. The Catholic report explains that besides a lack of medical care, hunger may have played a role in what happened in Santa Avelina and other model villages. “The basic diet consisted of three tortillas and some beans for all three daily meals, on occasion a bit of rice,” the report read. (Luis Soto / AP)

Clothing, earrings and a doll that were found among the remains of over 100 Ixil Mayans exhumed from a mass grave. The Catholic report explains that besides a lack of medical care, hunger may have played a role in what happened in Santa Avelina and other model villages. “The basic diet consisted of three tortillas and some beans for all three daily meals, on occasion a bit of rice,” the report read. (Luis Soto / AP)

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Baltazar Perez Sanchez, 71, mourns next to the coffin of his mother Magdalena, who died at age 65 in Guatemala.The villages were created with government funds and support from US evangelical churches, which maintained close relations with then-dictator Efrain Rios Montt. With the signing of peace accords in 1996, the model villages were gradually dismantled. (Luis Soto / AP)

Baltazar Perez Sanchez, 71, mourns next to the coffin of his mother Magdalena, who died at age 65 in Guatemala.The villages were created with government funds and support from US evangelical churches, which maintained close relations with then-dictator Efrain Rios Montt. With the signing of peace accords in 1996, the model villages were gradually dismantled. (Luis Soto / AP)

UPDATED ON JAN 01, 2018 02:58 PM IST
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A woman walks up an unpaved road in the Ixil Mayan village of Santa Avelina.Today little has changed in Santa Avelina and poverty here is still extreme. Wood and sheet metal homes dot the hillsides, while others have been upgraded with block construction. (AP)

A woman walks up an unpaved road in the Ixil Mayan village of Santa Avelina.Today little has changed in Santa Avelina and poverty here is still extreme. Wood and sheet metal homes dot the hillsides, while others have been upgraded with block construction. (AP)

UPDATED ON JAN 01, 2018 02:58 PM IST
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Tomas Cavinal Toma, 70, watches the burial of civil war victims at a cemetery. Edgar Perez, lawyer for the families who accuse Rios Montt of genocide, said the cases of the displaced have not been tried and that “these victims have been forgotten by justice.” Rios was convicted in 2013 and sentenced to 80 years in prison for genocide, but the Constitutional Court overruled the decision and ordered a new trial. (Luis Soto / AP)

Tomas Cavinal Toma, 70, watches the burial of civil war victims at a cemetery. Edgar Perez, lawyer for the families who accuse Rios Montt of genocide, said the cases of the displaced have not been tried and that “these victims have been forgotten by justice.” Rios was convicted in 2013 and sentenced to 80 years in prison for genocide, but the Constitutional Court overruled the decision and ordered a new trial. (Luis Soto / AP)

UPDATED ON JAN 01, 2018 02:58 PM IST
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An Ixil Maya man prays next to the niches in Santa Avelina cemetary. Since the exhumations began, experts have identified 108 of the victims through DNA testing or through personal objects recognized by family members. The return of the bodies has given relatives a place to bring flowers and light candles as per tradition. (AP)

An Ixil Maya man prays next to the niches in Santa Avelina cemetary. Since the exhumations began, experts have identified 108 of the victims through DNA testing or through personal objects recognized by family members. The return of the bodies has given relatives a place to bring flowers and light candles as per tradition. (AP)

UPDATED ON JAN 01, 2018 02:58 PM IST
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