Remains of 37 bodies exhumed in Lebanon
Lebanese policemen watch a bulldozer being used to search for more bodies after a mass grave was found in the eastern town of Anjar, in the Bekaa Valley, Lebanon, Saturday, Dec. 3, 2005. Lebanese security troops have removed the remains of 25 bodies from a mass grave in Anjar, near the former Syrian military intelligence headquarters, security officials said Saturday. (AP Photo/Samer Husseini) BEIRUT, Lebanon -- Troops exhumed the remains of 25 bodies from a mass grave near a former Syrian military base in eastern Lebanon on Saturday.An official said another 12 bodies - most believed to be Lebanese soldiers - were recently removed from a grave near Beirut for DNA testing.
The identities of the bodies were not immediately known, but one security official said some appeared to be Lebanese soldiers killed in an October 1990 Syrian military offensive that defeated Christian-commanded army units of then-interim Lebanese Prime Minister Michel Aoun. Ghazi Aad, director of Support of Lebanese in Detention and Exile, called the mass grave "the biggest proof" of the extent of Syrian atrocities against Lebanese.
Residents of the eastern Bekaa Valley town of Anjar, near the former headquarters of Syrian military intelligence in Lebanon, found the grave containing the 25 bodies last week, the official said on condition of anonymity because he was unauthorized to speak to the media. At least one of the bodies was dressed in a Lebanese soldier's uniform.
Syria vacated the headquarters - notorious for the arrest and torture of prisoners - April 25 as it withdrew its soldiers from Lebanon, ending its 29-year domination of its neighbor. Aad's group works for the release of Lebanese prisoners in Syrian jails and to learn the fate of missing people. Aad called for an international investigation into the mass graves and other killings allegedly carried out while Syrian troops were in Lebanon.
Although there are no exact figures, human rights groups and families say at least 176 Lebanese are jailed in Syria, including many who there for more than a decade. About 17,000 Lebanese who disappeared during 1975-90 civil war are still missing, including 61 Lebanese soldiers. Syria entered the war in 1976, ostensibly as a stabilizing force.
Lebanese soldiers barred journalists from approaching the grave site Saturday, only allowing photographers to take pictures of them refilling the pit with bulldozers. Journalists, however, saw troops collecting the remains in at least 12 black bags. The remains were taken for DNA testing, the official said.
Residents of the area are believed to have known about the grave for years but declined to speak out because of the presence of Syrian troops. Syria's withdrawal followed the Feb. 14 assassination of former Lebanese Premier Rafik Hariri, which sparked anti-Syrian protests and intensified international pressure on Damascus to remove its army. A U.N. investigation has implicated several Syrian officials in the killing, but Syria denies involvement.
Another security official said the Lebanese army dug out the remains of at least 12 bodies from the Defense Ministry compound in Yarze, near Beirut, in mid-November.
Most of those are believed to be Lebanese soldiers killed during the Syrian military offensive in 1990 that ousted Aoun, said the official, who also asked not be identified because he was not authorized to speak to reporters.
Digging operations are continuing in Anjar and at least one other location in the mountains east of Beirut.