Forensic scientists this month will start trying to identify the remains of Argentine soldiers buried in anonymous graves on the Falkland Islands after the country’s 1982 conflict with Britain, the head of the mission said on Thursday.
There are 123 such graves in Darwin Cemetery in the South Atlantic, one of which contains multiple bodies, International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) representatives overseeing the mission said at a news conference.
The ICRC has been interviewing families of dead Argentine soldiers since 2012 and around 100 have consented to DNA testing.
“I hope we will succeed in matching some of the graves,” head of the mission Laurent Corbaz said. “The plaque on the graves should not remain ‘Argentina soldier known only by God.'”
In Britain’s two-month-long war to reclaim the Falklands, 255 British and about 650 Argentine soldiers died, and it is still a sore point for Argentina.
Argentina’s President Mauricio Macri has adopted a softer tone than his predecessor Cristina Fernandez but he has not relinquished Argentina’s claim to the islands it calls Malvinas.
Argentina and Britain signed an agreement in December to try to identify the soldiers, splitting the $1.5 million cost. The team will consist of ICRC forensic scientists as well as two experts each from Argentina and Britain.
Exhumation and bone sampling is to begin on June 19 and will likely continue into August, Corbaz said, assuming one to three bodies per day can be analyzed and reburied. The ICRC chose the southern hemisphere winter to avoid interfering with tourism and sheep farming, Corbaz said.
DNA comparisons and analysis will be done at a lab in Cordoba, Argentina, and a final report should be ready by the end of the year, he added. Families will be informed of a match in an interview.
Retired British Army Colonel Geoffrey Cardozo, who then-Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher ordered in 1983 to recover the dead from various points on the island and set up Darwin Cemetery, will accompany part of the ICRC mission, Corbaz said.
“Fortunately he is still alive and accepted to accompany us for the first week” to help explain how he organized the cemetery, he said.