BY DAVID V BARRETT
NINE FORMER soldiers in El Salvador’s army have surrendered to authorities three months after their indictment in Spain for the 1989 killings of six Jesuit priests, their housekeeper and her 16-year-old daughter during the country’s 12-year civil war.
They were the most infamous killings in El Salvador after the assassination ofArchbishop Oscar Romero in 1980.
The ex-soldiers turned themselves in at a military base last week and were transported to a Salvadoran court, the government said.
They were among 20 former soldiers indicted by a Spanish court for their role in the deaths on the campus of the University of Central America in the Salvadoran capital, where the priests taught and lived.
Witnesses reported seeing more than 20 armed men in uniforms enter the priests’residence between 2am and 3am. Several of the victims were shot in the head, in execution style. Four of the bodies were left face down in the front yard of the house. Several of the bodies were mutilated.
Five of the priests were Spanish. One of these, Ignacio Ellacuria, had become a Salvadoran citizen. He was rector of the CentralAmerican University, and a widely respected Left-wing intellectual often denounced and threatened by the far right.
Another Spanish-born Salvadoran citizen was the university’s vice-rector, Ignacio Martín-Baró, a well known analyst of national and regional affairs and the founder and director of the polling organisation, the Public Opinion Institute.
The other Spanish-born priests were Segundo Montes, Amando López and Juan Ramón Moreno; the sixth priest was the Salvadoran Joaquín López.
The priests had been outspoken critics of the human rights abuses committed by the armed forces during the civil war in El Salvador.
Spain’s courts have used the principle of international jurisdiction to prosecute the killings. This states that some crimes are so grave they can be tried in any country.
General René Emilio Ponce, the army leader accused of ordering the killings, died in May before the Spanish indictments were handed down.
Ten other soldiers involved in the killing remain free.
El Salvador’s government said in a statement that the former soldiers – two of them were generals – surrendered as authorities prepared to arrest them on an international warrant issued by Interpol. Spain’s highest court demanded their extradition in 2008.
It is not clear whether the Salvadoran Supreme Court will permit their extradition to Spain.
The CentralAmerican country’s 12-year civil war ended in 1992 under an agreement mediated by the United Nations between the government and the Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front. An estimated 70,000 people died during the conflict.