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Ex-Salvadoran soldiers face extradition over killings

August 12, 2011

SAN SALVADOR – Nine military officers placed themselves in barracks to “reject” and circumvent an order of capture from a Spanish judge. The warrant alleges that the  officers were involved in the murder of six Jesuit priest and two women in 1989.

Faced with imminent capture by the police, the officers decided to appeal to the supposed right to “shelter” in the Military Security Brigade, where they placed themselves last Monday.

“We categorically reject the accusations that they intend to charge us with,” the soldiers said in a statement published Tuesday morning in El Salvador’s Diario de Hoy.

The officers, who include generals Rafael Humberto Larios (ex-defense minister), Orlando Zepeda (ex-vice minister) and Rafael Bustillo (ex-air force commander), said they do not acknowledge Spain’s jurisdiction in the case, which went to trial in 1991 under Salvadoran laws and judges.

The military men said they placed themselves in the barracks so that their rights as citizens are “respected” while a judge rules on the situation.

In the statement, the retired military officers urged the leftist government of President Mauricio Funes to make a “strong condemnation” of Spain’s government for “clear violation” of national sovereignty and the “intrusion” of Judge Eloy Velasco on issues that are “uniquely” within El Salvador’s jurisdiction.

On Tuesday, judge Carlos Calderón said the arrest warrants and extradition requests by Spain would now move to El Salvador’s Supreme Court for review.

In El Salvador, all attempts to reopen cases of crimes of the recent civil war (1980-1992) conflict with an amnesty law enacted in March 1993.

The director of the Human Rights Institute at the Jesuit University of Central America (UCA), Benjamín Cuéllar, “called attention to the moment the suspects turned themselves in” and the supposed right of “shelter” that the soldiers appealed to. He said that “these same military men do not know what [the right of shelter is],” nor how it would apply to this case.

To Cuéllar, the military men turned themselves in “because they are sure they will not be extradited.”

Meanwhile, local business leaders, in the National Association of Private Enterprise (ANEP), called the judge’s request a “step backward” for the Salvadoran democratic process Tuesday.

“The business sector considers this a setback for our democracy and the reconciliation reached after the signing of peace accords, which says that attempts to prosecute acts that have already been judged are violating our own constitution by failing to respect an amnesty accord,” ANEP said in a statement.

On the morning of Nov. 16, 1989, taking advantage of a guerilla offensive, members of the army murdered on the UCA campus Spanish-Salvadoran priest Ignacio Ellacuría, who was dean of that university.

Also killed were Spanish priests Ignacio Martín Baro (vice dean), Segundo Montes, Amando López and Juan Ramón Moreno, Salvadoran priest Joaquín López, housekeeper Elba Ramos and her daughter Celina.

The deaths occurred during a 12-year civil war that left approximately 75,000 people dead as El Salvador’s military-led government fought the Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front.

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