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Neruda bones in poison probe tests

Bone remains of Chilean Nobel literature laureate Pablo Neruda will be analysed in the United States as investigators seek to resolve a four-decade-old mystery about his death.

Mr Neruda's body was exhumed this week in an effort to discover if he died from prostate cancer as was recorded, or if he was poisoned by agents of General Augusto Pinochet's bloody dictatorship, as his driver and others believe.

Rodolfo Reyes, one of Mr Neruda's nephews, met Chilean and foreign forensics experts and said some of the poet's skeletal remains would be sent to a laboratory at the University of North Carolina medical school.

"They're going to take some toxin tests at a laboratory," Mr Reyes said after confirming that a jacket and a belt inside the exhumed coffin belonged to the poet. "It's a technical skill and we want them to take all the time in the world to do it and that it doesn't leave a single doubt," he told Radio Cooperativa.

Judge Mario Carroza, who approved a request by Chile's Communist Party for the disinterment, said he would receive a preliminary report about tests performed in Chile on April 22. The judge said he needed the report before he could order the return of Mr Neruda's coffin to his home in Isla Negra, a rocky outcropping overlooking the Pacific Ocean.

Mr Neruda was also a left-wing politician and would have been a strong voice in exile against Pinochet's regime. That ended with his death just 24 hours before he was to have escaped Chile in the chaos after the September 11 1973 military coup.

He was 69 and suffering from prostate cancer when he died 12 days after the coup that led his close friend, socialist president Salvador Allende, to kill himself rather than surrender to Pinochet's troops attacking the presidential palace.

For long, the official version was that Mr Neruda died of natural causes brought on by the trauma of witnessing the coup and the killing of many of his friends. But suspicions remained, even after Pinochet lost power and Chile returned to a democracy in 1990.

For years, Mr Neruda's driver and aide Manuel Araya said dictatorship agents injected poison into Mr Neruda's stomach while he was bedridden at the Santa Maria clinic in Santiago.

"We're hoping the analysis of the results in the United States will be positive and will add to all the new evidence," Mr Araya said. "I feel very peaceful. It was so difficult to get him exhumed and it has finally been done. I'm just searching for the truth."


From Belfast Telegraph