By Christopher Rails THE vagueness surrounding reports in recent weeks of a massacre of 1,500 Salvadorean refugees has defied investigation. and the Salvadorean government has denounced the reports as "lies orchestrated by the international propoganda machine".
The first account, in March, came from Church and human rights groups in Honduras. They said Salvadorean troops had bombed or dynamited shut the entrance to a cave called Cueva Pintada (Painted Cave) between the towns of Yarutela and Santa Helena, where the refugees were sheltering. Detaifed maps of the area failed to reveal any such cave, nor could a town called Yarutela be found.
A second report mentioned a massacre in Yarula, in the Morazan province. near the Honduran border. but Yarula is not near the border. A US embassy official apparently followed up the report, but could find no evidence to substantiate it.
However. Fr Jesus Oreliana. a priest working with Salvadorean refugees, said information reaching him "confirmed a massacre of displaced persons" on April 4-5 at a cave called Cueva gentada. on the El Salvador side of the Salvadorean Honduran border. He could give • no estimate of the numbers killed. but further information from Honduran relief workers among the refugees said strafing by planes and helicopters forced large number of refugees to shelter inside the cave and surrounding undergrowth. Soldiers sealed off the entrances to the cave and threw tear gas bombs inside. In two days many refugees had died of asphyxiation, and those who tried to escape were killed by gunfire.
A statement by the Committee of Solidarity with El Salvador mentioned 1,500 deaths. but a former of the land reform programme, who asked not to be named, said the number was closer to 150.
An American Capuchin friar, Fr Earl Gallagher, claimed there had been a prolonged raid on refugees recently, which had included strafing and bombing by El Salvador National Guard planes and a helicopter. In an interview with Fr George Torak, a New York priest who did documentary film work on Salvadorean refugees in Honduras, Fr Gallagher said he took part in a rescue operation during which the raid took place. and more than 30 refugees were killed, with 15 reported missing.
A Maryknoll missionary. Fr Roy Bourgeois, disappeared mysteriously in El Salvador on May 26 and has not been seen since.
Fr Bourgeois. from a Maryknoll house in Chicago, had been asked by a television station there to accompany the film crew to El Salvador.
A Maryknoll statement said Fr Bourgeois passed the hotel reception desk at 10 am with a message that he would return in half an hour. Nothing has been heard of him since.
Fr Bburgeois worked in refugee camps during the Vietnam war, and as a chaplain to political prisoners in Bolivia where he was held briefly by the military government.
On Sunday Bishop Arturo Rivera y Damas said that -a right-wing group" or "agents of the (government) security forces' may have kidnapped Fr Bourgeois