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Salvadoran Priest Killed By Land Mine

July 5, 1987

MANAGUA, Nicaragua (AP) _ A Catholic priest from El Salvador was killed when his car ran over a land mine in an area where Sandinista troops have been fighting Contra rebels, the state-run Voice of Nicaragua reported Saturday.

Also injured in the blast were a Nicaraguan priest and two church workers who were in the car when it struck the mine Friday evening on a road in Matagalpa province, 72 miles north of Managua, the radio said.

The dead priest was identified by Foreign Minister Miguel D’Escoto as the Rev. Tomas Augustin Zabaleta, 35, a Salvadoran with the Roman Catholic Franciscan order who had been working in Nicaragua for about three months.

The leftist government blamed the U.S.-backed Contras for laying the mine. The explosion occurred the same day the Contras reportedly ambushed a truck carrying civilians 115 miles southeast of Managua, killing 11 of them and wounding five others, state radio said.

There was no way to verify either report since the government restricts movements of journalists in combat zones.

Injured in the Matagalpa blast was the Rev. Jose Ignacio Urbina, a senior Nicaraguan Franciscan, Empenatriz Martinez and Digna Martinez, who are cousins.

Urbina’s physican, Dr. Harvey Soza, said the priest had multiple fractures on the spinal column, but that his nervous system was not damaged and he was not paralyzed. He said Empenzatriz Martinez was in a coma and in ″very poor″ condition. The extent ot Digna Martinez’ injuries was not clear.

″This is a new act of state terrorism perpetrated by the United States against Nicaragua, perpetrated by groups financed, organized and directed by the United States,″ D’Escoto said after a brief visit with Urbina. ″The United States has a responsibility for these criminal acts.″

In a statement broadcast over state radio, President Daniel Ortega said, ″The killing was committed by the president of the United States. President Reagan has become a killer of priests in Nicaragua.″

Ortega said Zabaleta was the first priest killed in Nicaragua since the Sandinistas came to power after ousting right-wing dictator Anastasio Somoza in 1979.

D’Escoto is a priest of the Maryknoll order, although the Vatican suspended him from priestly duties in 1984 after he refused to leave his government post.

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