Mauritania to find remains of its disappeared: minister

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Mauritania said Wednesday it will try to find and label the graves of people who disappeared and were likely killed during civil unrest since the ex-French colony gained independence in 1960.

The initiative, backed by President Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz after lobbying from rights groups, is expected to focus largely on the remains of black Mauritanians who disappeared during inter-ethnic conflict between 1989-1991.

"The state will launch, in the days to come, an operation aimed at locating the graves of Mauritanians who died under ambiguous circumstances," Islamic affairs minister Ahmed Ould Nini said at a meeting on the project.

Ould Nini said the president "gave instructions to design a plan" to find all Mauritanians "who disappeared since independence."

In Kaedi in southern Mauritania, where the country's black population is most heavily concentrated, rights groups and black Mauritanians' families asked Ould Abdel Aziz in April to help find the remains of those presumed dead.

Tensions between the country's black population and lighter-skinned Mauritanian Moors plagued the 1984-2005 regime of Maaouiya Ould Taya.

There was a notable surge in violence between 1989 and 1991.

While precise statistics are not available, many hundreds of blacks are believed to have been killed, while thousands were forced over the southern border in Senegal, where many lived for years as refugees.

Relatives have asked Ould Abdel Aziz to help organise "an honourable burial," for lost family members.

Scores of blacks are believed to have been the victim of extrajudicial executions.

The Islamic affairs minister said Wednesday the new initiative will help build links between between the large country's disparate communities.

He noted however that the exhumation and transfer of remains, requested by some rights groups, is not permitted in Islam.

© 2011 AFP

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