Families of the 90 Malvinas War soldiers recently identified through DNA testing visited the islands today. (Photo via Human Rights Secretariat)

The family members of 90 recently identified Argentine soldiers buried on the Malvinas Islands took a step toward healing decades-old wounds with an historic visit to the Argentine cemetery in Darwin.

Today marks the first time these families were able to pay their respects before the tombstones of their loved ones. 246 Argentine soldiers are buried at the Argentine cemetery in Darwin, and until the identification process 122 of those soldiers were buried in graves that only stated “soldier known only to God.”  Following an identification process that came yielded its results in December 2017, 90 of those graves have now been clearly identified with a name. That process was the result of cooperation between London, Buenos Aires and the International Committee of the Red Cross. Families could visit the cemetery before but were not able to identify the graves.

Three chartered airplanes, financed along with the plaques by businessman Eduardo Eurnekian, with more than 200 family members departed for the islands in the early hours of this morning, accompanied by journalists and Human Rights Secretary Claudio Avruj. Retired British Army Colonel Geoffrey Cardozo, who led the respectful burial of the Argentine soldiers in 1982 and sought to preserve information that would help identify them, is also part of the visit. Tributes were paid to Cardozo in Buenos Aires last week for his role in the process of identifying the unknown soldiers.

“Now I know where he is. My heart was racing. I leave with the satisfaction of having spoken to him. It was a meeting full of love and peace” said Dalal Abd, once the tributes were over. Abd is the mother of Marcelo Daniel Massad, a soldier killed in the war.

On the islands, the family members attended a religious ceremony conducted by Auxiliary Bishop of Buenos Aires, Monsignor Enrique Eguía Seguí, and the Right Reverend Abbott Hugh Allan from the United Kingdom along with protestant and catholic religious leaders from the islands. A small group of British military officers formed an honor guard, bearing their arms in the sign of respect and mourning.

With a prayer for the British and Argentine soldiers kills during the war, Seguí called to “work in favor of a culture of coming together without divisions nor hatred nor wars.”

After the ceremony, a sculpted rose made from melted down war matériel from the Malvinas War by Juan Carlos Pallarols was given to Cardozo so that it be left at the Argentine cemetery. Another was given by Araujo to the commander of the British forces on the islands so that it be placed at the cemetery where the British soldiers killed during the war are buried.

Quoted by the Télam news agency, Avruj said that the “from the state we are taking a giant step forward because we have come to close a debt with the family members of the heroes of Malvinas. This is a very emotional time. Finally in this cemetery life has flourished and we celebrate it.”

The ceremony also featured María Fernando Araujo, president of the Comisión de Familiares Caídos, Cardozo and Julio Aro, an Argentine Malvinas veteran who one of the driving forces behind the efforts for the bodies to be identified.

“Let these few hours, that are so necessary be the start of a journey for all of the families that stayed behind and for those who need to back be able to,” said Araujo, who was 9 when her brother Eduardo was called up for duty. Many of those killed on the islands were conscripts.

Psychologists were on hand to provide assistance family members as needed.

Following an agreement between the United Kingdom and Argentina in 2016 that came after years of talks, and with support of a majority of the families of the dead, the ICRC from June to August exhumed and analyzed 121 tombs and 122 bodies and cross-referenced them with DNA provided by 107 families.

While some samples provided by family members have been inconclusive when compared to DNA samples of those buried on the islands, the DNA taken from exhumed bodies can be used going forward should more samples be provided. The DNA analysis was carried about by the Argentine Forensic Anthropology Team (EEAF) and labs in the United Kingdom and Spain carried out quality control of the analyses.

The UK’s Minister of State for Europe and the Americas, Sir Alan Duncan MP said today, “I welcome this visit to the Argentine cemetery at Darwin by family members of the recently identified Argentine soldiers. This important humanitarian project, facilitated by the International Committee of the Red Cross, will provide some comfort to the families of the deceased. When visiting the cemetery the families will find their loved ones properly identified and in a place of great dignity.”

A statement by the authorities on the islands noted that “the Falkland Islands community understands the significance of today’s proceedings, and continues to be respectful in terms of the fallen men and their families.

“This visit by the relatives, together with the help provided by UK Ministry of Defence assets based in the Falkland Islands which worked alongside Argentine forces during the search for the ARA San Juan, shows what can be achieved with goodwill on both sides.”