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Soldiers Kill One, Wound Six in Mistaken Attack

August 31, 1989

SAN SALVADOR, El Salvador (AP) _ Soldiers killed one man and wounded six in a mistaken attack on a group of unarmed young people whose pickup truck ran out of gas after nighttime beach party, victims said Thursday.

The man killed was Rafael Garcia, whose friends gave the party for him the night before he was to leave for the United States.

Col. Rene Emilio Ponce, head of the joint chiefs of staff, said of the attack Tuesday and the killing of a high school student by a soldier last week: ″These are lamentable incidents that happen in the climate of tension in which we live.″

At least 70,000 people, most of them civilians, have been killed in El Salvador’s 10-year-old civil war with leftist rebels.

Ponce told a news conference Thursday the soldiers involved in both shootings were in custody and would stand trial.

″The high command has no intention of covering up any criminal activity within the armed forces,″ he said.

Rafael Ernesto Franco, 23, spoke with The Associated Press from his bed at Rosales Hospital. He was wounded in both arms and the abdomen during the encounter in the western province of Sonsonate.

In the next bed, with a chest wound, was Francisco Lopez Escalante, 20.

They said they were returning from the beach to their homes in Sonsonate City with 13 companions at about 3:00 a.m. Tuesday and ran out of gas on a rural highway.

″We were waiting for dawn to see if someone would come by and take us to buy gas when two vehicles drove up and, without saying a word, they opened fire,″ Franco said. ″After they shot us, they asked us where our guns were.″ A statement from Col. Juan Rodriguez, Sonsonate provincial commander, said his post was informed by a motorist that guerrillas had set up a roadblock on the highway.

″A patrol was dispatched and, when the patrol was driving along the highway, some individuals stepped out all of a sudden making signals to stop, and that is when the soldiers opened fire,″ the statement said.

Franco said the the soldiers ″acted wrongly. They could have pointed their guns at us, asked us who we were and checked our documents.″

He, Lopez and another seriously wounded man were moved to San Salvador on Wednesday.

″The soldiers did not want to take us to the hospital, but after a while their hearts softened and they took us to the Sonsonate hospital,″ Franco said. ″Even so, their truck wouldn’t start at first and they made us, even the wounded ones, push it to ... start it.″

On Aug. 22, high school student Manuel Miranda, 17, was killed by an army trooper who was checking the youngster’s documents at a checkpoint in San Salvador.

″We have no doubts about the honesty and the good conduct of the student Miranda, who was not involved in any subversive activity,″ Col. Ponce said.

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