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El Salvador orders arrest of former president over killing of six Jesuits in civil war

A judge in El Salvador ordered the arrest Friday of former president Alfredo Cristiani for alleged links to the murder of six Jesuit priests and two co-workers by the army during the country’s the civil war, prosecutors said.

On November 16 1989, Salvadoran troops from the now banned Atlacatl battalion shot dead the Jesuits, five of them Spanish, at the Central American University in San Salvador. They also killed a woman who worked as their housekeeper and her 16-year-old daughter.

On February 25, prosecutors filed charges against Cristiani, who was president in 1989-1994, and a group of soldiers for alleged involvement in the murder. 

Prosecutors said on Twitter Friday that a judge has ordered Cristiani, who is outside the country, former lawmaker Rodolfo Parker and four colonels to be put “under provisional detention.” 

The former president, whose whereabouts are unknown, denied the charges and attacked Attorney General Rodolfo Delgado in a statement. 

“The attorney general, in bad faith and with a clear disregard for the truth, has publicly accused me of omission and cover-up,” said Cristiani, who, in his capacity as president, was also commander-in-chief at the time of the killing. “The truth is that I never knew of the plans they had to commit those murders.” 

He said that the military “never informed me or asked me for authorization because they knew that I would never have authorized Father Ellacuria or his brothers to be harmed.” 

Cristiani also asserted that “at this time there are no procedural guarantees in El Salvador” because most prosecutors and judges are controlled by the president. 

Of the four colonels who were ordered arrested on Friday, one is already serving a 30-year prison sentence in Spain for the crime. 

The authorities also ordered that three generals and two other colonels charged in the case be given alternative measures to detention because of their age and health condition.

Another general and a colonel accused in the case have already died. 

Ten Salvadoran soldiers were convicted of the killings in 1991, but an amnesty for crimes committed during the country’s 1980-1992 civil war meant they were freed in 1993.

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