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Lorca's grave awakens other ghosts

The excavation of a mass grave on a Granada hillside where the poet Federico Garcia Lorca was murdered during the Spanish Civil War has reinforced calls for the area to be investigated. "Lorca was just one of 4,000 executions on a roadside just a kilometre long," says Juan Antonio Lopez Diaz, a Granada University professor. "There are so many bodies there that pine trees were planted just to stop them being uncovered by rainfall erosion."

After years of debate, digging finally began last week at the mass grave where half a dozen men, possibly including Lorca, were killed and buried on 18 August 1936 by hitmen from General Franco's right-wing Nationalist forces. A huge white tent has been erected, surrounded by a two-metre high metal fence, to ward off the media during the two-month investigation.

There are no such restrictions on area less than a mile away known simply as "the ravines of Viznar". This is where mass executions of hundreds of other sympathisers of the doomed Spanish Republic were summarily executed.

"We had our desaparecidos [disappeared] way before the term became famous during the 1970s South American dictatorships," Diaz Lopez added. "During the war in Granada anybody with even the slightest connection to the 'wrong' side risked illegal execution. And that went on well into Franco's regime."

The biggest mass grave of the "ravines" is in a vast pit where bunches of freshly cut flowers are strewn over a two-metre long pile of stones. Nearby plaques commemorate the deaths of some victims – one for a group of 23 individuals, another for Jose Diaz Morales, killed two days after learning of the execution of his 19-year-old son in the same place.

But handwritten pleas pinned on pine trees to respect the area as an unofficial cemetery go largely unheeded.

A mountainbike trail cuts through, and local teenagers assemble nearby for outdoor drinking parties.For years an "out of sight, out of mind" attitude has prevailed in Spain towards the 120,000 Republican sympathisers killed. Lorca's alleged grave is only being dug up after the justice department of the regional government of Andalucia intervened.

Whether Lorca is found or not, his potential disinterment has encouraged other victims families to finally come forward. Manuel Jimenez, 81, believes his father, killed by Nationalist gunmen on 16 August 1936, is buried next to Lorca. It has taken Jimenez 70 years to summon the courage to talk formally to officials about his father. But as he said, "we still don't know who accused him, or of what".

Federico Garcia Lorca: 'Disappeared'

*Arguably the greatest Spanish poet of the 20th century, Lorca was born in 1898 in a small village near Granada.

*His early work was influenced by flamenco and gypsy culture, and he later joined a group of poets and artists known as the Generation of 27. The group included the surrealist painter Salvador Dali and filmmaker Luis Bunuel.

*On the outbreak of civil war in 1936 Lorca was arrested by soldiers of the Franco regime. He was shot dead on 18 August of that year, and his body dumped in a mass grave.

*After a long- running dispute, Lorca's family have dropped their opposition to excavations at his assumed burial site.