EFEBojaya, Colombia

The streets of the Colombian town of Bojaya were decked in white this Monday for the silent funerary procession honoring the 99 victims of one of the bloodiest massacres of this country's armed conflict.

The 99 coffins were carried from the sports center to the mausoleum by some who still remember those who died on May 2, 2002, when a cylinder bomb launched by the FARC in a battle with the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC) fell into the church where some people of the town had sought to escape the fighting.

The commotion and loud music so characteristic of the streets in Bojaya were missing this Monday, as the funeral procession moved silently through the streets of this town in Choco province with sorrowing family members carrying the coffins and roses.

The Bojayans stood all along the sidewalks to create a street of honor and accompany the mourning families in silence, some displaying photos of those killed in the massacre.

Upon their arrival at the mausoleum, the families handed over the coffins to officials of the District Attorney's Office and then went on to the burial as the town singers cried out: "Squads of armed gentlemen, never again."

The funerals included a Mass, before which the community held an act of homage at the town sports center, where children and adults displayed posters with the names of the 99 who were buried this Monday.

Despite the heat and humidity in the region, some came out in all their finery to give the victims a final farewell, something they had to stifle for more than 17 years until, with the aid of the Colombian Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, they managed to get the District Attorney's Office to fully and publicly identify the massacre victims.

During his sermon, Fr. Sterling Londoño of the diocese of Quibdo, the provincial capital of Choco, again called on authorities to focus on Bojaya, since on Sunday the church and social organizations warned the government about the "imminent risk" of another massacre.

"The victims of Bojaya represent the greatest denial of what our African, indigenous and mestizo peoples have been forced to undergo, and which we must demand that it be kept hidden no longer," the priest said, adding that "victims do not need an opinion, they need protection and full refuge in the rule of law."

On Sunday night, more than 600 families gathered in the sports center for a collective vigil in which they remembered their loved ones with the traditional hymns of Colombia's Pacific region and by praying the rosary.

The space was adapted so that everyone attending would be in front of the coffins on whose lids were placed candles and photos of the victims.

During this ceremony, which the community called "the last night," the 50 minors killed in the massacre were commemorated with traditional hymns the local residents always sing to honor the memory of youngsters who pass away.

On hand for this intimate moment were Maria Antonia Santos, daughter of former President Juan Manuel Santos, who signed the peace treaty with the FARC three years ago, as well as the director of Unity for the Victims, Ramon Rodriguez, and the former presidential adviser on human rights, Paula Gaviria.

Starting Monday night, the families will celebrate a novena that will end on Nov. 26, and during those days 100 trees will be planted in Bojaya to commemorate those who lost their lives on May 2, 2002. EFE jga/cd