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Salvadoran Defector Says U.S. Advisers Knew of Death Squad Activity

October 27, 1989

WASHINGTON (AP) _ A Salvadoran soldier who acknowledges taking part in eight death squad murders said Thursday that his orders came from the Salvadoran high command and that American advisers ″had to know what was going on.″

″My job was to kill or be killed,″ said Cesar Vielman Joya Martinez, 28, who told of being a member of a special forces group of the 1st Infantry Brigade called GC-2 in the capital of San Salvador until he fled the country in July. He said his job from April until July of this year was to capture and kill suspected leftist guerrillas.

The Salvadoran military has denied Joya Martinez’ allegations, which surfaced in the Central American nation two weeks ago.

The Pentagon, in a statement issued Thursday, called claims of U.S. complicity in death squad activity ″patently absurd.″

″We know of no instances in which U.S. military personnel have been even remotely associated with such morally repugnant activities,″ the statement said.

Jeff Brown, an information at the U.S. Embassy in El Salvador, said Ambassador William Walker ″considers the charges very serious″ and ″if they are truthful, they must be investigated.″

Joya Martinez outlined his allegations for U.S. reporters in a series of interviews at a Washington hotel. Speaking in Spanish, he said his orders came in one-page reports issued by the Salvadoran Joint Chiefs of Staff. The reports, he said, went to the commanders of the brigade, Cols. Juan Orlando Zepeda and Franciso Elena Fuentes. He said he took part in eight killings but the reports he saw indicated 72 people were killed from April to July.

″The report did not say kill them, it said ‘bring them to justice,’ which in simple terms means to kill them. My work was only to execute these people,″ said Joya Martinez.

He said two American advisers were assigned to the unit to analyze intelligence data and pay for supplies ranging from weapons to gasoline.

″They had control of the department,″ Joya Martinez said. He said he did not know exactly what knowledge the Americans had, but said, ″Obviously they had to know what was going on.″

Joya Martinez said he made the allegations public in an attempt to stop the killings. Col. Elena Fuentes said in El Salvador two weeks ago that Joya Martinez is a defector wanted for the murder of two civilians.

The former soldier is seeking asylum in the United States, his attorney, William Van Wyke said. The U.S. Immigration Service has accused him of ″entry without inspection″ and he could be deported, Van Wyke said.

Joya Martinez said he never knew the identities of his victims and that a lieutenant in the unit ″made sure the faces were covered.″

″Sometimes they were almost dead from being beaten during interrogation,″ he said.

The soldiers usually slit the throats of the victims and hurled the bodies over a cliff into the Pacific Ocean, he said.

″They (the officers) always said we had to do this to end the war, because they were terrorists,″ Joya Martinez said.

There are 55 American military advisers and an unknown number of CIA agents in El Salvador. Joya Martinez said the two U.S. advisers wore civilian clothes and were known only as ″William″ and ″Major.″

Joya Martinez said he left the country because colleagues in his own unit were given orders to kill him because of a botched military sweep to pick up suspected guerillas. In that operation, one civilian was killed and another died later of injuries suffered in the sweep.

The Salvadoran military contends that Joya Martinez was responsible. He claims it was the work of other soldiers.

Human rights and church groups have claimed for years that death squads run by the country’s extreme right-wing political faction have killed tens of thousands of civilians in El Salvador since 1979, the start of an ongoing war between Marxist-led guerrillas and the U.S.-backed troops.

The United States puts about $1.5 million a day in economic and military aid into El Salvador.

Elena Fuentes said two weeks ago: ″There’s no such thing as a death squad. We don’t harbor any kind of dark organization.″