By BosNewsLife Americas Service
LIMA, PERU (BosNewsLife)-- Religious rights activists on Thursday, August 30, welcomed a Peruvian court decision to put put four military officers on trial on charges of "crimes against humanity" for a 1984 massacre, which claimed the lives of 123 villagers, most of them Christians.
The villagers, including infants and elderly, were gunned down December 13, 1984, by members of Peru's military in Putis community, in the south-eastern highlands of Ayacucho Department, Christians said.
Many of the young women were gang-raped before being killed, according to investigators of Britain-based advocacy group Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW).
A court concluded that the four suspects, General Wilfredo Morí Orzo, Juan Briones Dávila, Carlos Celso Soto Mesinas and Luis Oscar Grados Bailetti, were likely to have known about about the 'Putis Massacre', because of their high positions in the military.
The ruling came nine months after after charges were filed by the Ayacucho public prosecutor, trial observers said.
“The people of Putis have waited 27 long years for justice. With this long overdue decision to try the military officers responsible for this horrendous crime, they are one important step closer," stressed CSW Chief Executive Mervyn Thomas in a statement to BosNewsLife.
Key suspect General Morí Orzo was in command of the Ayacucho Second Infantry Division of the Peruvian Army,
which executed the massacre with support from a unit known as The Lynxes Company Caccording to CSW
The Lynxes, led by Grados Bailetti and also under the command of Morí Orzo, have been linked to other human rights "atrocities" in the region "including the now emblematic 1985 Accomarca massacre, in which 69 civilians were murdered by security forces, CSW added.
The mass graves in Putis were reportedly exhumed in 2007, under the supervision of Dr. Cristina Olazabal, the
Ayacucho public prosecutor at the time, and with support from the Peruvian protestant human rights organisation and CSW partner, Peace and Hope.
The remains of the victims were recovered and subjected to DNA analysis to identify them. In some cases, where entire families had been wiped out, definitive identification was not possible, rights investigators said.
The five-year delay between the exhumation and this week’s decision is largely due to "stonewalling" from the Ministry of Defense, CSW claimed.
Despite repeated requests from the public prosecutor’s office, the ministry and the military allegedly refused to identify individual soldiers responsible for carrying out the massacre.
In the absence of this information, the public prosecutor’s office decided to file charges against the officers in command of military operations in the area, CSW explained.
"We now call on the military and the government, specifically the Ministry of Defense, to cooperate fully as the trial proceeds and to take concrete steps to end the culture of impunity in Peru,” Thomas said.
Attorney Milton Campos, who represents the families of victims, said in published remarks that the court’s decision “revived confidence in the relatives of the more than one hundred victims of this massacre, who hope that the judicial authorities will recognize their right to justice and the truth..."
He said they hope for "a detailed investigation of this barbaric act and [the] handing down [of] an exemplary punishment to those responsible."