SANTA MARIA NEBAJ, Guatemala – The remains of 31 Ixil Mayans killed more than three decades ago during the height of Guatemala's civil war were laid to rest Wednesday in the country's western highlands amid the sounds of a violin and wafts of incense.
Hundreds of people joined in a procession that carried small wooden boxes containing the remains to a cemetery in Xecax, the village in Quiche province where the massacre happened.
Villagers have blamed the army for the attack on Feb. 4, 1982, but no one has ever been prosecuted.
Forensic experts first exhumed the remains four years ago but were able to identify only eight of the victims through DNA tests. The bodies of those identified were returned to their relatives' homes in the village for a traditional memorial service before the mass burial.
The 23 others were honored with flowers, candles, incense and music at a wake Tuesday night in Santa Maria Nebaj, a town not far from the village. The remembrance was held at the offices of the Movement of Victims of Northern Quiche, a victims' rights group.
Diego Rivera, director of the organization, said the bodies of the slain had been burned and then put in a mass grave by the attackers.
Vicente Brito, 70, lost his mother, father and a daughter. Of the three, forensic experts identified his father, Pedro Brito. Pedro Brito's photograph was placed on the wooden box containing his remains.
"He was my father and I look like him. It's good to have found him," Brito said crying.
Each of the small coffins holding unidentified remains bore a sign that read "Without DNA profile" and included a case number.
Margarita Hermoso said she was grinding corn in nearby Santa Maria Nebaj when the attackers struck her village.
"When I heard the shots I wanted to go back to Xecax but people wouldn't let me go, they told me I would get killed," she said.
Hermoso, now 69, said her husband, four sons, mother and father-in-law were slain. None of them was identified among the remains.
"I was left alone with my daughter," a sobbing Hermoso said.
At least 200,000 people were killed during the 1960-96 civil war, mostly by state forces and paramilitary groups seeking to wipe out a left-wing uprising. The U.S. government supported Guatemala's military regimes during the war.