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Government says Franco's body should be exhumed

But committee report points out that Church permission would be required to remove dictator's remains from Valley of the Fallen mausoleum

Franco's remains should be dug up and handed over to his surviving relatives, but only if the Catholic Church approves and Parliament agrees. This is the conclusion reached by a committee of experts who have been working since May on ways to change Valle de los Caídos (Valley of the Fallen), a massive monument to Franco's victory in the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939), into a museum of historical memory and a place of reconciliation, not confrontation.

The group was supposed to have completed the document before the November 20 general elections, but it requested an extension to the deadline partly because it said there was a lack of consensus, and partly because it did not wish to influence the outcome of the vote with an issue that remains very sensitive in Spain. Around 34,000 people are buried in what constitutes Spain's largest mass grave. Experts have said that it would be impossible to identify many of the bodies and return them to their rightful families for proper burial.

The Socialists were behind the initiative to remodel the famous Franco mausoleum, whereas the center-right Popular Party, which won the November elections in a landslide, opposes any changes to the Valle de los Caídos, located north of Madrid and easily identified from a great distance because of the enormous cross that dominates the complex.

That is why Ramón Jáuregui, the prime minister's cabinet secretary, asked the incoming government of Mariano Rajoy not to put the report in a back drawer. "This is not an act of anachronism, or symbolism, or partisanship. It is a political necessity, and act of justice towards the victims," said Jáuregui.

A few months ago the dictator's daughter, Carmen Franco, told the committee that she wanted her father's body to remain where it is, but the group does not consider her wishes to be binding. It does, however, await a verdict from the Catholic Church, since the Valley of the Fallen includes a basilica hewn from the rock that functions as a place of worship.

Most of the committee members believe the only way to change the essential meaning of Valley of the Fallen is to transfer Franco's remains elsewhere. Only three out of the 12 members disagree.

"The exhumation of the remains of a head of state, out of incompatibility with his political regime, would be out of place in our European context and Western present, where nothing like it has ever occurred," wrote the dissenting members in the report. "Right now at least, such an exhumation is inopportune and would contribute to divide and radicalize public opinion."