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Weeks before INLA victim's body can be brought home from France, family is told

By Sean O'Driscoll

It will likely be weeks before the body of Seamus Ruddy, an INLA murder victim, can be returned to Ireland, the lead investigator overseeing the search has said.

A body, believed to be that of Mr Ruddy, was exhumed from a French forest after it was discovered on Saturday morning.

French authorities were due to move the clothed, skeletal remains yesterday to a mortuary, where a pathologist will carry out an autopsy.

Irish workers who found the body will then begin the process of returning the forested site to its original condition.

Mr Ruddy, originally from Newry, disappeared in Paris in 1985.

Geoff Knupfer, the chief investigator with the Independent Commission for the Location of Victims' Remains (ICLVR), said that his team was waiting for the autopsy to be complete before extracting a DNA sample from the remains.

He said the sample will likely match DNA obtained from Mr Ruddy's family members.

"There will be a post mortem and then a DNA sampling to match the familial DNA, which we already have of course," Mr Knupfer said yesterday.

"It could take a matter of weeks; it will certainly be more than days, that's for sure."

He said that the French authorities have to be sure that it was Mr Ruddy's body, and not that of any other murder victim, before they can allow it to return to Ireland.

Mr Knupfer was preparing to fly from his native England to France yesterday to supervise the operation. He said that, following a smaller scale dig in 2008, his team had a big breakthrough following further discussions with the INLA.

"In the past we dug in three pin-point areas and that has drawn a blank. We got further information and we took a decision to do a full blown search and it was in the process of that we found the remains," he told The Times.

Workers from a Monaghan-based civil engineering firm found the body on Saturday morning.

Mr Knupfer said that some of those workers will probably go home once the digging sites have been filled in.

Digging machinery brought to the site from Monaghan will return to Ireland by ferry.

Mr Knupfer said he could not comment on whether he has had ongoing talks with the Irish Republican Society Party, the INLA's political wing, before the body was found.

"I will say that there has never been a hint of people trying to deceive. I think there is a genuine will in Ireland to resolve these issues," he said.

According to an account given by Harry Flynn, an INLA ex-prisoner, on a Seamus Ruddy tribute website, Ruddy have been living and teaching in France when he was abducted in 1985.

Flynn said that the INLA leader who came to France to murder Mr Ruddy was later killed in the INLA/IPLO feud in 1987.

According to Flynn's account, Mr Ruddy was wrongly accused of informing on gun shipments because Turkish and Irish authorities intercepted two INLA gun caches. Anne Morgan, Mr Ruddy's sister, has visited the forest at Pont-de-l'Arche outside Rouen, where the search began early last week.

Yesterday, she attended Mass at the Church of Joan of Arc in Rouen. There have been three previous searches in the forest area for Mr Ruddy, the most recent by the ICLVR in 2008.

She told the BBC she would "be thinking of family" back home.

"I'll also be thinking of those who have been here looking after this site at Pont-de-l'Arche, and all of the people who have spent a lot of time helping us to find Seamus," she said.

Anne had been heading home when she heard a body had been found and extended her stay.

She added: "It was like a bitter sweet moment when you're very happy, but also very, very sad.

"Sad that all of these years, 32 of them, have gone past and we weren't able to find him - but now it looks as if we may have found him."

She said she wanted to thank the ICLVR and the forensic team as well as the French authorities for facilitating the search.

"We just want to take Seamus home and give him a Christian burial with his parents Molly and John," she said.

"We have waited a long time and prayed for the day that he could be given a Christian burial in Newry."

With the likely discovery of Mr Ruddy's remains, the ICLVR has just three bodies remaining on its list of disappeared, all of them killed by the IRA: Columba McVeigh, an alleged informer abducted in Dublin; Joe Lynskey, a Belfast man whom the ICLVR believe is buried in Co Meath and Robert Nairac, an undercover British soldier abducted from a South Armagh pub in 1977.

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