Several sites are being dug up in the Republic after the IRA passed on information to a new Commission for the Location of Victims. The body of one victim was found on Friday. The grisly exercise represents the culmination of many years of family hardship, loss, and campaigning for return of the missing.
The IRA used two priests as intermediaries. Father Alex Reid, based at Belfast's Clonard monastery, was closely involved in behind-the-scenes negotiations which led to the peace process. The other go-between is a fellow Redemptorist priest from Dublin.The former deputy Irish prime minister, John Wilson, a commission member, said much work in the search would be completed over the weekend.
Relatives of the missing were being taken to a number of sites, and police using ground penetration radar equipment - similar to that used in the Fred and Rose West "House of Horrors" investigation - were trying to pinpoint the bodies.
Earlier this week, parallel legislation came into force in the UK and the Republic specifying that any new forensic evidence gathered during the recovery of the bodies could not be used to bring prosecutions. The British and Irish governments have said this does not amount to a general amnesty for those involved in the killings.
The provision was yesterday attacked by Nigel Dodds of the Democratic Unionist party. He said: "The Government is guilty of the most blatant double standards by giving an amnesty to the IRA over the disappeared while at the same time soldiers giving evidence to the Bloody Sunday inquiry are to be identified and made liable to prosecution."
The Sinn Fein president, Gerry Adams, said: "I am sure that the families involved have very mixed feelings. I know it has been very difficult for them. Hopefully, this is the beginning of the end of what has been an unimaginable time for them all."