Military Admits Soldiers Massacred Peasants With AM-Salvador-Election Bjt
SAN SALVADOR, El Salvador (AP) _ After trying to blame leftist rebels, the military Sunday admitted responsibility for the Sept. 21 slaying of 10 peasants and said nine soldiers, including two officers, will stand trial for the massacre.
The slayings and subsequent cover-up were ″a grave violation of normal operating procedures,″ said an armed forces statement.
It said an intelligence unit major, a second lieutenant, two staff sergeants, a corporal and four privates from the 5th Brigade’s Jiboa Battalion ″will be turned over to civilian judicial authorities″ to stand trial.
Col. Jose Emilio Chavez Caceres, a brigade officer relieved of his command, will be reinstated because he was innocent of any wrongdoing and was lied to by his subordinates, it said.
″I think it’s a breakthrough,″ Ambassador William Walker said of Sunday’s developments.
″The high command of the armed forces is admitting that ... their earlier versions have not held up under examination and were wrong, scurrilous,″ he told a group of reporters.
But Walker said it was too early to say if the massacre case marked a real change in the military’s traditional impunity in human rights abuses.
At first, the military claimed the peasants were rebels who ambushed a Jiboa Battalion patrol and were killed in ″fierce combat″ in the hamlet of San Francisco, near brigade headquarters in San Vicente, a city 36 miles east of San Salvador.
However, news reports quoting witnesses said a 33-man patrol marched into San Francisco, rounded up the village’s 15 families in the schoolhouse, separated the 10 peasants and accused them of collaborating with guerrillas.
Witnesses said the seven men and three women were taken to a nearby ravine, tied up, blindfolded and killed with hand grenades. Some witnesses said they also heard bursts of rifle fire after the explosions.
The next day, the rest of the villagers found the bodies in the ravine covered with a banner of the Farabundo Marti Liberation Front rebel coalition, witnesses said.
The military claimed the peasants were killed after being detained for ″involvement in the activities of subversive organizations″ and possessing explosives and propaganda.
Sunday’s statement said an investigation found the soldiers had lied to their superiors and that Maj. Mauricio Beltran Granados, an intelligence officer, had ordered the peasants killed.
It was the worst mass slaying of civilians in four years in El Salvador. The United States, which provides El Salvador with an average of $1.5 million daily in military and economic aid, has been pressing the government to bring those responsible to justice.
During a visit in February, Vice President Dan Quayle insisted that those responsible be sought and tried. Walker, who rarely leaves the capital because of the war, visited the provincial judge handling the case to stress U.S. interest in the affair.
An estimated 70,000 people have been killed since the civil war began more than nine years ago.