MADRID (Reuters) - Spanish dictator General Francisco Franco's remains should be removed from a controversial monument outside Madrid, a commission named by the outgoing Socialist government recommended on Tuesday.
The commission also proposed building a visitors' center to explain the Valle de los Caidos (Valley of the Fallen), where 33,840 soldiers from both sides of Spain's 1936-39 Civil War are buried.
The giant mausoleum, hewn out of rock on a mountainside an hour's drive northwest of Madrid, has been criticized as the only remaining monument to a fascist leader in Europe.
"For the Valley of the Fallen to be given new meaning, free of ideological and political connotations, it must be reserved for the remains of victims of the war. Franco is the only person buried there who did not die in the war," Virgilio Zapatero, one of the commission presidents, told a news conference.
Franco died of natural causes in 1975 after ruling Spain for 36 years.
The commission's findings may come to nothing because the Socialists lost badly in the November 20 parliamentary election, the anniversary of his death.
The center-right People's Party, which will form a new government in mid-December, has not taken sides in the debate over the Valley.
In the past, however, the PP has consistently opposed examining the Civil War and Franco's ensuing decades-long dictatorship saying it would just re-open old wounds.
The commission said the Valley of the Fallen should become a memorial to recognize the losses on both sides of the war. That would mean leaving in the monument the remains of some 12,000 fighters from the losing Republican side.
The commission consulted with families who want their Republican relatives removed from the site, but decided it was too difficult to find and identify remains.
A visitors' center that explains why and how the center was built would help to dignify the remains of both sides, the commission decided.
Franco ordered the monument built and Republican prisoners were forced to carve it out of rock between 1940 and 1958, many of whom died.
The commission recognized that Franco's remains could not be moved without cross-party agreement in parliament, the consent of his descendents and the co-operation of the Catholic Church, since he was buried inside a basilica on the site.
The remains of Jose Antonio Primo de Rivera, founder of Spain's fascist Falange party, should stay at the site, the commission said, since he died during the war. However, he should be moved to a less prominent spot.
Reporting by Emma Pinedo; Writing by Fiona Ortiz; Editing by Angus MacSwan