Refugees Allowed to Cross Border After Church Workers Agree To Stay Behind
EL POY, El Salvador (AP) _ More than 1,200 refugees were allowed to return home from Honduras after 15 U.S. church workers accompanying them agreed to stay behind, ending a daylong impasse, a United Nations official said.
The government, which claims many refugees living in Honduras back leftist Salvadoran guerrillas, had accused the church workers of exploiting the returning refugees for political ends.
The refugees and more than 150 vehicles, held on the Honduran side of the border since Saturday night, were allowed to cross the border Sunday evening, said Roberto Rodriquez of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees.
The church workers ″were conscious that by not coming they would create no type of problems″ for the returning Salvadorans, he said by telephone.
Rodriguez said the refugees from El Salvador’s nearly 9-year-old civil war were on their way to hometowns in northern Chalatenango province, which they left in the early 1980s.
In the Honduran capital of Tegucigalpa, a foreign ministry spokesman said the refugees were being escorted by officials from the U.N. agency.
There was no immediate comment from the government and the church workers could not be reached.
The Salvadorans lived in the Mesa Grande refugee camp 30 miles north of the border before leaving under an arrangement between the refugees, the Salvadoran government and the U.N. group, which is overseeing the repatriation.
Their convoy of 36 buses and 116 trucks was halted in Honduras about 500 yards from the border late Saturday. Salvadoran authorities refused to permit 15 U.S. church workers of the Going Home organization to accompany them.
Interior Minister Edgar Belloso Funes told reporters at the border Sunday his government ″welcomes with open arms″ the refugees.
″But the so-called internationalists among them are using our brothers for strictly political ends. They (the foreigners) are coming here to break our laws, and I have orders from the highest level that they not be permitted entry,″ he said.
Amadeo Lopez, a returning refugee and member of the community’s directorate, said earlier Sunday that the group of 1,230 refugees was insisting the U.S. church workers be allowed to enter.
Jose Maria Mendiluce, the U.N. group’s Central American director, said the presence of the church workers was not contemplated in the accord.
Louis Vitale, a Roman Catholic priest from Oakland, Calif., and spokesman for the Going Home delegation, blamed the government for the standoff.
″This is part of the Salvadoran government’s continuing efforts to obstruct the refugees’ return,″ he said, adding that all members of his delegation had visas for El Salvador.
Going Home is an interfaith organization supporting Salvadoran refugees.
The armed forces consider the three Salvadoran refugee camps in Honduras part of the rear guard of leftist guerrillas that have fought the U.S.-supported government. About 4,300 refugees returned last year and about 15,000 Salvadoran refugees remain in the camps.
The majority of the 65,000 people killed in the war have been civilians.
Human rights groups blame security forces and rightist death squads for most of the political murders in the early 1980s. Such killings dropped off dramatically after 1983.