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World War II Mass Grave Unearthed in Rome - 2002-02-10

Excavation has begun in Rome at a site where dozens of German soldiers are believed to have died during allied bombings in the Second World War. The human remains were discovered during digging for the installation of a fiber optic network in the Italian capital.

A column of German soldiers, fleeing Rome during heavy allied bombings at the end of the Second World War, are said to have taken refuge in a quarry in a southwestern suburb of Rome. But the quarry also came under fire, killing all those hiding there.

Excavation of the hilly area where the quarry was located began this weekend. Searchers hope to establish exactly who died there. It is still unclear how many perished and whether they were all Germans, or whether there were also ordinary Rome citizens or Jews, picked up during raids on the city.

For decades the mass grave remained unearthed, until last October when work on a fiber optic network for the Italian capital brought the discovery of the human remains. At first some bombs emerged, then the human remains were found. Light weapons and even uniforms were also uncovered.

Italian investigators recently spoke to a 76-year-old man who claimed to have witnessed the bombing. Rizziero Aquilante said German troops tried to take shelter in a tunnel of the quarry that was bombed by allied forces. He said he clearly heard the suffering voices of people coming from below, but was unable to help.

Mr. Aquilante said he tried many times to inform the authorities about the events at the quarry, but no one had taken any notice of him until recently, when the human remains were discovered.

Workers at the site are using a special robot with an infrared camera to check the tunnels of the quarry, before bringing in Italian army earth-moving equipment. Authorities have said that all the material that is recovered will be carefully sorted and labeled. They hope to be able to shed light on the events that took place at the quarry just before the end of the Second World War.