Europe

Fallen Argentine troops' relatives wait for identification

  • This Feb. 13, 2017 photo shows Maria Antonieta Lobos, whose son died fighting in the Falkland war, looking outside her window in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Lobos says she has never been able to properly mourn Jose Antonio, who died June 14, 1982, the last day of the war between Argentina and Britain over the archipelago, because she doesn't know which remains are his. (AP Photo/Victor R. Caivano)

    This Feb. 13, 2017 photo shows Maria Antonieta Lobos, whose son died fighting in the Falkland war, looking outside her window in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Lobos says she has never been able to properly mourn Jose Antonio, who died June 14, 1982, the last day of the war between Argentina and Britain over the archipelago, because she doesn't know which remains are his. (AP Photo/Victor R. Caivano)  (The Associated Press)

  • This Feb. 13, 2017 photo shows plaques with the names of Argentine soldiers who died in the Falklands war, including Jose Antonio Lobos whose remains have not been identified, in a plaza near the Lobos' family home in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Lobos' mother says she doesn't want to leave this world without placing a flower on a grave bearing the name of her son killed in combat more than three decades ago. (AP Photo/Victor R. Caivano)

    This Feb. 13, 2017 photo shows plaques with the names of Argentine soldiers who died in the Falklands war, including Jose Antonio Lobos whose remains have not been identified, in a plaza near the Lobos' family home in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Lobos' mother says she doesn't want to leave this world without placing a flower on a grave bearing the name of her son killed in combat more than three decades ago. (AP Photo/Victor R. Caivano)  (The Associated Press)

  • This Feb. 13, 2017 photo shows a plaque with the names of Argentine soldiers who died in the Falklands war, including Jose Antonio Lobos whose remains have not been identified, in a plaza near the Lobos' family home in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Under an agreement signed in December by Argentina and Britain, the International Committee of the Red Cross has begun the process of putting a name to each of the soldiers buried in Darwin Military Cemetery in the Falkland Islands. (AP Photo/Victor R. Caivano)

    This Feb. 13, 2017 photo shows a plaque with the names of Argentine soldiers who died in the Falklands war, including Jose Antonio Lobos whose remains have not been identified, in a plaza near the Lobos' family home in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Under an agreement signed in December by Argentina and Britain, the International Committee of the Red Cross has begun the process of putting a name to each of the soldiers buried in Darwin Military Cemetery in the Falkland Islands. (AP Photo/Victor R. Caivano)  (The Associated Press)

The body of Jose Antonio Reyes Lobos rests in the Falkland Islands along with those of more than 100 other fallen Argentine soldiers. But his 79-year-old mother says she doesn't want to leave this world without putting a flower on a grave bearing the name of her son killed in combat more than three decades ago.

Maria Antonieta Lobos says she has never been able to properly mourn Jose Antonio, who died June 14, 1982, the last day of the war between Argentina and Britain over the archipelago in the southern Atlantic that South Americans call the Malvinas and the British call the Falklands. She doesn't know which remains are his.

"Who do I mourn?" asked Lobos, who seems worn out by the wait. "My son? I never saw him!"

But there is hope the Chilean woman's wish could finally be fulfilled.

Under an agreement signed in December by Argentina and Britain, the International Committee of the Red Cross has begun the process of putting a name to each of the soldiers buried in Darwin Military Cemetery without being identified.

Laurent Corbaz, who is overseeing Red Cross project, told The Associated Press during a recent visit to the islands that workers are still in the preparation and logistics phase and expect that starting in June the bodies will be exhumed from their individual graves so DNA samples can be taken.

In the last phase, which the committee hopes to conclude by the end of 2017, a laboratory in the Argentine province of Cordoba will compare DNA samples with samples from the soldiers' relatives. Later, laboratories in Spain and Britain will review the comparisons.

The DNA from the remains will be taken at the graves, and the bodies will be immediately be reinterred. Corbaz said that the sampling and analysis may last until year's end.

"We are extremely happy that we can move forward and let's hope that the implementation will be as fruitful as possible and we can bring answers to as many families as possible," Corbaz said.

The war over the islands ended with the South American country's defeat. In all, 649 Argentine soldiers died, nearly half of them when the ship General Belgrano sank. A total of 255 British perished in the conflict.

In an isolated site, on a lonely hill of the archipelago near Port Darwin, there is a cemetery with 230 graves, of which 123 are of unidentified men marked with plaques that read: Argentine Soldier Known Only to God." It is believed that Jose Antonio Reyes Lobos rests in one.

His sister Cecilia Reyes Lobos said she tells her mother that although the family has been told there's a good chance his body is there, she must prepare herself for one of two possibilities: that he's there, or that he's not. Either way, "it's the truth and the truth sets you free," she said.

Britain prepared the cemetery in 1983 to allow interment of the Argentine combatants hastily buried by their comrades on the battlefield. Relatives of the fallen Argentine soldiers have visited the cemetery over the years through various trips approved by authorities from both countries.

Jose Antonio's mother and three sisters visited the cemetery in 1992, during the administration of then-President Carlos Menem. But like the other families, they were not told beforehand they would find dozens of tombs without names, one of which could contain the remains of their son and brother.

"We mothers stop (before the resting places). We go tomb by tomb, looking for a sign, something," Jose Antonio's mother said of the bitter moment she chose one unnamed grave where she would pray for her son.

Some 110 families, including Jose Antonio's, have signed a document asking that the identification process be carried out, said Julio Aro, a former combatant who has promoted the project for years through the Don't Forget Me Foundation.

The plan took form in 2012, when the English musician Roger Waters persuaded then-President Cristina Fernandez to get involved after giving her a letter from an Argentine soldier's mother who wanted her son's remains identified.

Today, not all relatives are in agreement with the identification plan and complain they were not consulted about the current process.

          "They are resting and for me it seems inopportune to bring up all this now after 35 years. Both for them, who are buried there, and for us, the parents, the brothers and sisters who are still bearing the burden of this great pain," commented Said Massad, father of soldier Marcelo Daniel Massad, whose remains have not been identified.

Dalal Abd, the dead soldier's mother and the wife of Said Massad, said she had asked Argentina's foreign ministry that families be kept closer to the process to ensure remains are handled with the utmost care.

Abd is secretary of the Commission of the Relatives of the Fallen in the Malvinas and the Islands of the South Atlantic. She has proposed that an Argentine forensic expert who is a veteran of the war be involved in the process, which contemplates the involvement of two forensic investigators from Argentina and two Britons as well as Red Cross workers.

Some relatives fear identification could lead others to ask that the remains be moved to Argentina's mainland, though that isn't contemplated at this point.

Aro said he thinks the worries are misplaced and contends identification of the dead is crucial. "The greatest act of sovereignty that exists is to give them names," he said.

For Abd, if the remains should be transferred, "we lose everything."

"We cannot recover the islands, but that blood is an (Argentine) emblem," she said.

Lobos also wants her son's remains to stay put.

"I want him to stay there because he elected to die there," said Lobos, who for her 80th birthday in December wants to travel to the islands and finally initiate the mourning process she set aside so long ago.

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Triaghana Smith in Port Stanley contributed to this report.