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Church Leader Worried About Return Of Death Squads

November 16, 1987

SAN SALVADOR, El Salvador (AP) _ The Roman Catholic archbishop of San Salvador said Sunday he is worried about a resumption of activities by right-wing death squads and has asked President Jose Napoleon Duarte to intervene.

In a homily at the Metropolitan Cathedral, Archbishop Arturo Rivera Damas said ″there are a series of circumstances that leads us to presume″ that in at least one recent death ″members of the Tresury Police are implicated and I have so told the president of the republic.″

Rivera Damas said he was referring to the assassination Friday night of Miguel Angel del Transito Ortiz, a watchman at the House of God Convent in Soyapango, a town 4 miles east of the capital.

″This serious act of bloodletting must be fully investigated,″ Rivera Damas said, adding that the convent had been attacked and robbed several times before the slaying.

″If the violence does not even respect a sacred place, what can a common citizen walking through the unsafe streets of the capital and its surroundings expect?″ the archbishop said.

He also quoted the church’s Legal Aid Office, a human rights group, as saying five people were assassinated during the past two weeks and said ″this leads us to believe the death-squads are returning.

″It is urgent that the government puts and end to this escalation of terror.″

Rightist death squads, believed linked to security forces, have been active in El Salvador since the civil war against leftist guerrillas began in 1979. When Duarte assumed office in 1984, he promised to take action against them.

According to human rights groups, many of the 63,000 deaths in the civil war have been civilians assassinated by deaath squads. The number of such killings had dropped sharply from the time Duarte took office until last month.

Herbert Ernesto Anaya, president of the private Human Rights Commission, was assassinated by gunmen outside his home in San Salvador Oct. 26, and Rivera Damas said the Legal Office had information a death squad was responsible.

The archbishop also said about 40 guerrillas wounded in the war will be allowed to leave the country if they accept a government amnesty under terms of the Central American peace plan.

The peace plan signed by the five Central American presidents Aug. 7 calls for cease-fires in the insurgencies here and in Nicaragua and Guatemala.

It also calls for amnesties, reforms to bring greater democracy to the region and an end to outside aid to rebel forces.

Rivera Damas said about 20 of the wounded guerrillas already have been evacuated from war zones and are housed at the Calle Real Catholic Refuge, a home for the needy at Apopa, 7 miles north of the capital. He gave no other details.

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