PACCHA, Peru (AP) — This remote hamlet on fertile Andean slopes beside the Apurimac river has been a ghost town for three decades, inhabited only by the buried bodies of villagers slain by security forces who considered them rebel sympathizers.
Earlier this month, forensic investigators began unearthing the remains of the nearly two dozen victims of the July 14, 1984, massacre in this region where government forces regularly hunted alleged collaborators of the Shining Path guerrillas.
Dolores Guzman, the sole survivor, set aside the street stand where she sells hard-boiled eggs in the capital of Lima and journeyed last week to Paccha to help forensic experts find the common graves.
Arriving was not easy. This rugged southeastern region known as "Oreja de Perro," or Dog's Ear, lacks telephones and good roads. Cocaine-trafficking remnants of the otherwise conquered Shining Path movement coexist here with young Quechua men who ferry coca paste over the Andes in backpacks.
In all, 21 sets of human remains were recovered, including those of eight children and a fetus, said Luis Rueda, the forensic archaeologist overseeing the dig. Some 70,000 people were killed in the 1980-2000 internal conflict, most of them civilians, a truth commission found.
Peruvian prosecutors have only recently begun in earnest to catalog the human rights violations committed during those two decades, and identify those responsible.
Since 2003, the remains of slightly more than 2,400 victims have been recovered, but the bodies of an estimated 12,000 more, mostly poor, Quechua-speaking farmers, are believed to remain unearthed. That's more than the number of people who were disappeared during 1970s dictatorships in Argentina or Chile, where the victims were primarily educated city-dwellers.
Today, Paccha is in ruins, the wooden dwellings of its silenced populace are mere skeletons.
Before the massacre, the hamlet was a refuge for dozens of families trying to flee the conflict, said Guzman, who was 20 years old and four months pregnant at the time.
The afternoon of the slayings, Guzman was washing clothes in the river when a patrol of paramilitary police arrived. Thirty villagers managed to escape, but she and 20 other people, including another pregnant woman, were seized.
The killers at Paccha used pseudonyms so Guzman doesn't know their names. Prosecutors say an investigation will now begin, though they lack names as well.
She was spared, she says, because one of her cousins was a police guide. The day after the killings, she was marched out of the village and released.
The cost of keeping her life was to prepare a last meal for the condemned. She cooked sweetened pumpkin and personally fed each detainee because their hands were bound behind them. She gave them water, too.
No one begged for mercy, said Guzman. It seemed futile.
But the silence broke when the killing began, she said.
"The children cried the loudest."
Associated Press writer Rodrigo Abd reported this story in Paccha and Franklin Briceno reported from Lima.