A lot of battles without names happened here’: Decades later, Peruvian villagers bury their dead

June 13, 2013: Aquilina Cardenas, right, and her sister Luciana look into a coffin containing the remains of their father in a forensic laboratory in Ayacucho, Peru. Their father was one of those tortured and killed on Jan. 8, 1988 by Shining Path militants in retaliation for forming a self-defense committee in the village of Chaca. Rodrigo Abd / AP
June 14: After attending a brief memorial service marking the return of their relatives' exhumed remains, family members carry coffins containing the remains through the main square in Ayacucho before returning to Chaca for a mass burial. The remains were exhumed in 2012 from a mass grave and released to family members on June 13. Rodrigo Abd / AP

CHACA, Peru — It was Alejandrina Torres' first time back in her native village since Shining Path rebels cut her parents' throats while she hid, a terrified 4-year-old, beneath the skirts of a neighbor.

She joined relatives of other villagers slain by insurgents nearly three decades ago to formally bury the remains of 21 people, including her parents, exhumed from a common grave in the remote region of Ayacucho state that endured some of the worst atrocities of Peru's 1980-2000 conflict.

Both security forces and Maoist-inspired insurgents committed grave human rights violations.

A Truth and Reconciliation Commission estimated the conflict claimed nearly 70,000 lives, most of them poor, Quechua-speaking people such as Torres. Some 15,000 of them disappeared. Yet fewer than 3,000 bodies have been exhumed because Peru has lagged in healing the wounds of its war.

June 16: Eudicia Urbano, 70, stands in front of her former home, near the spot where her husband Marcial Escalante died. She wept as she recalled how he was tortured and killed by Shining Path rebels. Rodrigo Abd / AP
June 15: Eusebio Velasque mourns over the coffin containing the remains of his father Edwin Velasque during a mass burial at the local cemetery in Chaca. Rodrigo Abd / AP
June 16: Women prepare Pachamanca, a feast of meats, vegetables and herbs, buried in a pit along with hot stones and roasted, in honor of the mass burial and to mark Father's Day. Rodrigo Abd / AP

The villagers in Chaca wept quietly as they carried white coffins through a eucalyptus grove from the town square to a cemetery.

"I can just see the 'senderistas' (rebels) coming down from the hills, shouting in Quechua, 'Die, traitorous dogs!'" Torres said as she walked.

Chaca's victims were killed in retaliation for forming a self-defense committee. As weapons they had little more than slingshots and poles with knives tied on.

"A lot of battles without names happened here," said Constantino Urbano.

He recalled watching, hidden on a nearby hillside, as insurgents killed his father and burned down the village's wooden Roman Catholic church. He was 9 at the time.

Chaca is among thousands of communities still waiting for reparations money promised by the state eight years ago. It lacks running water and telephone service, medical attention is precarious and, during the four-month rainy season, it's inaccessible by vehicle because the dirt road becomes mud.

EDITOR'S NOTE: Images taken between June and August 2013 and made available to NBC News today.

Aug. 22: Alicia Isabel Colina, 61, poses for a photo holding a portrait of her disappeared son, Javier Crispin Colina, in front of mass grave number 70, discovered by Colina and her husband, in Huancavelica. For almost a quarter century Colina and her husband scoured the mountains of Peru's poorest region in search of the son hauled away by soldiers from a friend's house in the middle of the night. Completely on their own, the couple found a total of 70 clandestine burial sites and unearthed three dozen bodies. Rodrigo Abd / AP
June 16: Accompanied by her daughter-in-law, Eudicia Urbano, 70, walks to her former home the day after her husband, Marcial Escalante, was buried along with other Chaca residents tortured and killed in 1988 by Shining Path militants. Rodrigo Abd / AP
Aug. 22: A freshly dug pit, unearthed on the orders of a prosecutor in search of mass graves that contain the remains of people allegedly disappeared by Peruvian military forces, in Huancavelica. In Peru no state agency exists dedicated to finding the bodies and cataloguing the killings. Few human rights abusers have been prosecuted. Rodrigo Abd / AP

See more of Rodrigo Abd's work on PhotoBlog:

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