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Military Court Orders Arrest Of Two Survivors Of Massacre For ‘Rebellion’

November 16, 1988

CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) _ A military court investigating the killing of 14 fishermen by Venezuelan soldiers had two survivors arrested Wednesday on charges of ″military rebellion,″ an opposition leader said.

Wolmer Gregorio Pinilla and Jose Augusto Arias were handed over to military police in the presence of opposition politicians, Walter Marquez of the leftist Socialist Movement party said from his offices in San Cristobal.

El Diario, a Caracas daily, reported Wednesday that the court at San Cristobal, in Tachira state 330 miles southwest of Caracas, exonerated the soldiers involved in the killings on grounds of self-defense.

It said the court did not state whether the 14 dead men were guerrillas, as military spokesmen said after the shooting occurred Oct. 29, or a party of fishermen. The survivors say it was a fishing party and they escaped by jumping into the water from a dugout canoe when soldiers opened fire.

The shooting inspired student riots early this month in which at least 60 people were wounded.

Marquez said his party would urge the Supreme Court to pursue the case.

Townspeople of El Amparo, 350 miles southwest of Caracas near the Colombian border, protected the two survivors when military authorities tried to take them away after the incident. The men said they feared for their lives, especially since the military originally reported 16 killed in the encounter.

Opposition leaders say the judge in the case reports directly to the head of the Jose Antonio Paez brigade, which carried out the killing. Marquez said: ″This decision is a complete violation of justice.″

He gave the survivors his protection after the shooting and told their story to the press.

On Wednesday, Marquez said: ″The military court has refused to carry out even the most elementary investigations, such as exhuming the bodies to determine whether or not the dead men had fired any weapons before they were killed.″

He claimed the military planted weapons on the dead men, dressed the bodies in uniforms of the Colombian National Liberation Army, a guerrilla group, and poured acid on the faces to prevent identification.

Soon after the attack on the men, the government called it ″the result of a confusion.″

In its arrest order, the military court said the 14 dead were ″co- authors″ with the two survivors of ″military rebellion″ and declared the investigation ended because the dead men could not testify, Marquez said.

Military rebellion is a general term often used to justify detention without cause, Amnesty International said in a report on Venezuela published in October.

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