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Spain opens door to 31 exhumations in the Valley of the Fallen mausoleum

Spain opens door to 31 exhumations in the Valley of the Fallen mausoleum
FILE PHOTO: A view of the helicopter carrying the coffin of late Spanish dictator Francisco Franco at The Valle de los Caidos (The Valley of the Fallen) in San Lorenzo de El Escorial, Spain, October 24, 2019. Chema Moya/Pool via REUTERS/File Photo -
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MADRID (Reuters) – Spanish authorities said on Wednesday they would endeavour to exhume some of the thousands of civil war victims in the Valley of the Fallen, weeks after the remains of dictator Francisco Franco were ferried out of the mausoleum by helicopter.

The imposing state-run mausoleum near Madrid, carved into a mountain and topped by a 150-metre cross, has long served as a mass grave for nearly 34,000 Spaniards who died during the civil war unleashed by Franco from 1936-1939.

Those buried include many from the losing Republican side whose bodies were moved there during Franco’s rule without permission of their families.

The relatives of some have spent decades calling for the right to exhume remains from the site.

A source at National Heritage, the state organisation that manages the Valley of the Fallen, said they had received 31 requests for exhumations.

The plan is to access several chapels where victims are buried “to assess the feasibility of locating, identifying, and recovering the remains of the buried persons, with respect for the rights of third parties,” the organisation said in a statement.

Forensic examiners will be brought in to offer technical and legal assessments on whether the exhumations can be carried out.

A 2011 government report suggested the tombs are in a dire state of deterioration, citing humidity and water leaks, making it almost impossible to identify the individuals buried there.

After the exhumation of Franco, acting Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez promised that his Socialist party would work to rectify Spain’s historic debt with families of victims of the civil war and Franco’s regime, describing it as “a dishonour that needs to be addressed sooner rather than later.”

(Reporting by Emma Pinedo and Ashifa Kassam; Writing by Jessica Jones; Editing by Andrew Cawthorne)

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