Sixty-five next of kin of Argentine combatants buried in the Falkland Islands and whose remains were recently identified, visited the Argentine military cemetery at Darwin to pay their respects and pray next to the graves of their loved ones.
It is another chapter of the humanitarian project agreed by the governments of Argentina, United Kingdom, Falkland Islands under the guidance of the International Red Cross Commission to identify the unknown Argentine combatants buried in the Islands, and bring peace and solace to their families.
The trip started at Ezeiza airport on Wednesday at 04:30 in the morning and the official ceremony at 11:00 with a mass by an Argentine padre, cousin of one of the fallen combatants, together with a Falklands priest and parson. This was followed by a ceremonial Scottish Infantry Company Guard of Honour, six soldiers with rifles reversed in full traditional kilt uniform and a piper who played Laments.
It was a truly emotional event for the families who could now identify the names of their loved ones engraved in the black marble, at the foot of a white cross, which for most of 36 long years simply read Argentine solider only known to God
It was a special event also because after stormy days, Wednesday emerged with an open sky, although with typical Falklands wind, and even more important the Argentine Human Rights Secretariat informed that another two graves now also have names. They are Eduardo Antonio Vallejos and Carlos Alberto Frías, conscripts still in their teens, from Cordoba and Corrientes provinces, both killed in action.
This means that only ten remains out of 122 at the Argentine military cemetery still are unknown and most probably will be identified in coming days.
Next to the cemetery the Falkland Islands government (FIG) Public Works Department provided tents, toilets, seats and coffee. An ambulance was on site and a local doctor, although the visiting families had also brought along a doctor and trained medics for such an occasion. FIG also hired a local bus company to provide all the transport to and from the airport with Spanish speakers on each vehicle. The British Forces, besides the Guard of Honour also helped with tents and logistics.
Malvinas veteran Bugler Omar Tabarez played the Argentine version of “The Last Post” at the end of the service, then the Piper Lament came. Tabarez lost his bugle at the end of the conflict but in 2010, Scottish soldier Tony Banks turned up at his home to return the musical instrument. Tabarez was invited to be part of the next of kin group travelling to the Islands to play the same bugle as he did back in 1982.
The visiting group also displayed a national Argentine flag, held low below waist-height and as it was unfolded it was carefully explained it was in honour and respect to those buried at the Argentine memorial and to those names on the surrounding walls who lost their lives at sea and have no grave.
The whole day was for the families with some closure to their minds and lives as a result of being able to talk, pray and leave flowers and rosaries to their beloved ones. The visiting party was most grateful for the honour and respect with which they were received both from the locals who assisted them and by the British Forces.
Present at the ceremony was the Falklands Acting Governor and also Brigadier Nick Sawyer, Commander of British Forces South Atlantic Islands, who received a matching wreath from the Families Commission to lay at the San Carlos British Military Cemetery.
The Argentine next of kin were accompanied by representatives from the Argentine Ministries of Human Rights and Foreign Affairs, the British Embassy in Buenos Aires and those who were directly involved in the humanitarian effort from the very beginning, Malvinas veteran Julio Aro head of the Foundation Don't Forget Me, Maria Fernanda Araújo, from the Malvinas Fallen Families, reporter Gaby Cociffi and retired British Colonel Geoffrey Cardoso, who in 1983 was commissioned to bury the remains in what was later to become the Argentine military cemetery at Darwin.
Speaking of the visit, Falklands elected lawmaker MLA Barry Elsby, Chair of the Legislative Assembly said: “With this second visit we have continued to uphold our commitment to the Geneva Convention, requiring that persons lost in combat are identified where possible. This visit was a humanitarian undertaking to enable the next of kin to show their respects and remember their relatives. As with the previous visit, the proceedings were closely managed to ensure a balance between preserving the gravity of the occasion as well as the sensitivities of the local community.”
In effect, Tim Miller who is the cemetery caretaker commented the significance of separating politics from the right of a soldier who puts on his country's uniform and dies in battle under orders, to a decent final resting place, regardless of the colour of his uniform
Mr. Miller also revealed that his team was busy the two days before the event, trimming grass and tidying up and laying the most recent 9 of the 20 gravestones now with full names that arrived on the Latam flight on Saturday 9 March.
This besides mounting the new Cemetery Plaque which explains that the Cemetery is the property of the Families Commission, Funded by AA2000 and maintained by a local company. The Corporation America which owns AA2000 and belongs to Argentine businessman Eduardo Eurnekian also funded the two trips of next of kin, both in March 2018 and 2019
Mr. Miller's team once a month attends the cemetery to maintain the grass and graves clean and tidy, and carry out repairs as needed.
Finally Mr. Miller also pointed out that a carefully worded code of behaviour and respect for all visitors to the Argentine military cemetery has been approved by the Caretaker, the Malvinas Families Commission, which all visitors receive prior to their visit.
The important one thing no longer accepted is the showing of a defaced Argentine flag with any political wording or a map of the Islands on it. Visitors are advised that is unacceptable and can result in action against them.