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Salvadoran War Victim Returns Home

June 10, 2000

SAN SALVADOR, El Salvador (AP) _ Fifteen years after she was separated from her family during El Salvador’s civil war, Maria Esperanza de Jesus Casco Lopez _ now known as Sara Rabanne _ has returned to be reunited with her mother.

Rabanne, now a 20-year-old French citizen, was tracked down in February by a humanitarian group that searches for children who disappeared during the civil war. She said she was surprised to find out her biological mother was alive.

``I have much to gain from seeing her,″ she told The Associated Press after arriving in El Salvador this week. ``I want to be with her.″

In 1980, pro-government paramilitaries arrived at her family’s small house and killed her father and oldest brother. The rest of the family fled, joining the rebel Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front, or FMLN.

The girl’s mother, Albertina Lopez Arevalo, became a cook for the rebels, often fleeing helicopter and plane attacks. In 1985, she sent her young daughter to a church so that she would be safe.

But because of an error when she arrived in Zaragoza village, 12 miles south of San Salvador, the girl was registered as an orphan and named Sara. Her papers said her parents were killed in one of the civil war’s many massacres.

Jose Arino, a French architect who arrived with the group Doctors of the World to help build houses, became attached to Sara and brought her back to France, where she was adopted by a family.

Then, this February, her biological mother brought the case to a humanitarian group, and the group tracked Rabanne down in France.

She was reunited with her mother Friday in rural Suchitoto, 27 miles north of the capital, in the province of Cuscatlan, where she spent the first five years of her life.

``I am content,″ she said. ``I am very happy.″

More than 75,000 people were killed during El Salvador’s civil war. Peace accords signed in 1992 ended the fighting.

According to the Association to Support the Search for Children, the group that helped Lopez, most children disappeared between 1980 and 1984, when soldiers captured them during military operations and passed them along for adoption.

Since 1995, the association has found 90 children out of 557 cases it has investigated.

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