Argentine students crack three-decade-old murder mystery

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Sleuthing by a high school class in Argentina has helped crack a three-decade-old mystery surrounding the disappearance of a Frenchman and his Mexican girlfriend during the country's 1976-1983 brutal military regime.

The remains of Yves Domergue and Cristina Cialceta, unceremoniously buried in unmarked graves 34 years ago, have been identified thanks to the students and other residents of the town of Melincue, Domergue's brother told AFP Tuesday.

"We have found my brother and his girlfriend. They have been identified. After 34 years of dead-ends, we are relieved at having found them and also to know that they did not live very long under their murderers," Eric Domergue said.

The couple were killed in 1976, at the start of the Argentine military dictatorship responsible for the deaths or disappearances of tens of thousands of leftwing activists.

Their two brutalized bodies -- then unidentified -- were found September 26, 1976 by the side of a rural road by a farmer.

They were buried three days later in Melincue in unnamed public graves, until detective work by the local high school class in 2003, at the urging of their teacher Juliana Cagrandi, revealed who they were.

A retired legal official who kept the files on the anonymous bodies, Jorge Basuino, a lawyer, Rogelio D'Angelo, and other residents of the town contributed to the investigation.

The students and teacher doggedly pursued the case until the regional human rights secretariat opened its own official probe in 2008 and, after an exhumation, determined there were coincidences with the case of Yves Domergue.

Domergue's family was informed in May of the preliminary findings, and two weeks ago an Argentine judge made an official confirmation.

Argentine President Cristina Kirchner was to pay homage to Yves Domergue and Cristina Cialceta in a ceremony on Wednesday to be attended by the French ambassador and a Mexican embassy diplomat.

"A homage is right for what they did, for their struggle. Let's hope it leads to something, that Yves, for a moment, represents the 30,000 disappeared" during the dictatorship, said Eric Domergue, 54, who lives in Argentina.

Yves Domergue, born in Paris in 1954, was part of a French family that emigrated to Argentina between 1959 and 1974. He decided to stay when the rest of the family left.

A militant in the Revolutionary Workers Party -- the political wing of an Argentine guerrilla group active in the 1970s -- he met Mexcian-born Cialceta in the town of Rosario, where she lived with her Argentine mother.

Domergue was one of 18 French citizens who went missing during the junta or in the March 1976 coup that gave rise to it. Only one other has been identified from remains: a nun, Leonie Duquet.

Cialceta was one of two Mexican citizens who disappeared.

Of the 30,000 disappeared listed by rights groups, only 400 have been identified.

For Domergue's family, the elucidation of Yves's fate was the end of a nightmare.

Yves Domergue's father Jean, 80, had presented three formal demands for information, several international depositions and formed an association for the families of disappeared French citizens.

The trail ended at a military torture center in Rosario, where other detainees remembered seeing the couple alive.

For Eric, it solved the enigma of what happened to his brother, whom he had furtively met many times but who went missing after a final postcard sent in mid-September 1976.

"To protect me, he could get word to me but I couldn't find him, and so we had a system for visits. Yves went away for a few days but always came back -- until the day he no longer returned," he said.

"It was as if Yves had been swallowed up by the earth."

© 2010 AFP

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