ISLA NEGRA, Chile (AFP) - Experts on Sunday started work on opening the tomb of Chilean Nobel prize winning poet Pablo Neruda, to uncover his remains and determine if he died of cancer or was poisoned.
The leftist author, who died 12 days after the 1973 military coup that ousted socialist president Salvador Allende and brought General Augusto Pinochet to power, was long believed to have died of prostate cancer.
But officials in 2011 started looking into the possibility he was poisoned by agents of the Pinochet regime, as claimed by Neruda's driver.
The poet's body officially was to be exhumed Monday at 8am local time (7pm Singapore time), but tomb opening preparations began Sunday, as Judge Mario Carroza had said.
The poet's remains are in a tomb at one of his homes, which was turned into a museum, in Isla Negra.
Police investigators and government forensic experts were at the scene on Sunday. Around 5pm local time they set up a special tent to shield proceedings from public viewing of the tomb where the remains of his third wife, Matilde Urrutia, also are interred.
Neruda won the 1971 Nobel Prize in Literature and is best known for his love poems, as well as his "Canto General" - an epic poem about South America's history and its people.
The Chilean justice system gave the go-ahead for the probe in June 2011 after a complaint was filed by the Chilean Communist Party.
In addition to the driver's accusations, the official complaint cites witnesses who say Neruda was healthy up until the day before his death. They said he did not exhibit symptoms consistent with the advanced cancer to which he was said to have lost his life.
Neruda's family and the official foundation that administers his work have both accepted the official cause of death, saying in a 2011 statement that there was "no evidence or proof" to suggest foul play.