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Children Say They Were Kidnapped During Salvadoran Civil War

December 8, 1995

SAN SALVADOR, El Salvador (AP) _ A child when soldiers took him away, this orphan of El Salvador’s 12-year civil war was 20 years old before he was reunited with any of his relatives.

The army denies kidnapping children of suspected rebels or their sympathizers during the war. But a growing number of war orphans _ 21-year-old Armando Ascencio among them _ are blaming soldiers for taking them from their parents.

``The soldiers took me to a military base where I lived for six months. Then they took me to the International Red Cross where I was for about a year. Then they moved me to an orphanage where I stayed between 7 and 8 years,″ Ascencio said.

``So much time made me think I didn’t have a family since my parents died,″ he said.

But after the war, he found some uncles.

It is one of the lasting questions from the war in El Salvador: The fate of perhaps hundreds of children taken from their families.

The Foundation for the Search for Children say at least 164 children like Ascencio disappeared during military operations between 1981-1991. Other estimates run as high as 400 or more.

After the war ended in 1992, families began the arduous, often painful task of finding their lost children _ most of whom would now be between the ages of 16 and 26.

The Foundation for the Search for Children has located 24: three in France, two in Italy and the rest in El Salvador.

A 21-year-old man, who only gave the pseudonym Pedro for fear of retribution, remembers the day he was taken from his family.

His voice breaks and he verges on tears as he talks of how his mother took him to the hills of embattled Chalatenango, a region 70 miles northeast of the capital, to escape a military operation.

``It was May 14, 1980, when the armed forces arrived ... my mother and two other women who were with her, they killed them,″ he told The Associated Press. ``I thought my brother was dead too because he was covered with blood but it was my mother’s blood.″

Chalatenango was an area of intense guerrilla activity and human rights groups say hundreds, probably thousands, of civilians suspected of rebel sympathies are believed to have been killed there by the army.

``When I saw they were going to kill my mother I covered my eyes, I was not brave enough to see when they shot, and after my mother died the soldiers grabbed me and my brother and put us on a helicopter,″ he said.

The young man said he and his brother lived on a military base for years and that the military paid for their studies in private schools.

``In general terms they treated us well. They advised us to study because in the future we would have to take care of ourselves. But our lives were different from ordinary kids, we were on a military base,″ he said.

The military rejects charges that children were taken from their parents.

``It could be that some children who were found abandoned were taken to some base but this would have had to be for humanitarian reasons and not to sell them or traffic them,″ said Gen. Alexander Mendez, vice-minister of defense.

He confirmed that there is an office within the Defense Ministry that has been looking into cases of children who disappeared, but said information is scanty.

``It appears that there is a biased campaign with political interests in affecting the armed forces,″ Mendez added. ``The situation is lamentable but it appears there is no genuine interest″ in determining what really happened.

Like many parents, Julia Huezo hasn’t given up. Her daughters were 1 and 11 when they were taken during a military operation in Chalatenango in 1982.

``I begged the soldiers who took them to realize that we parents are frantic, it hurts us not to know what becomes of them,″ she said.

Though that was the last time she ever saw them, ``I never lost faith that my two daughters were alive,″ she said.

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