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Thursday, 14 September, 2000, 02:45 GMT 03:45 UK
Judge orders 'death squad' arrest

By Peter Greste, Central America Correspondent

A judge in Honduras has ordered the arrest of former military officer, Amilcar Zelaya, and seven other police and army officials, for the attempted murder of a group of student activists.

The retired general was a member of the three-man military government that ruled Honduras in the late 1970s.

According to investigators his country house served as a clandestine prison for left-wing activists.

General Zelaya and his co-accused are still at large.

One of the most important judicial decisions for Honduras in years was how one human rights' commentator described the arrest warrant for General Zelaya.

The eight have all been charged with the torture and attempted murder of six left-wing students detained in 1982.

Atrocities

According to court documents, the students were all arrested and held for more than two weeks in cells hidden in General Zelaya's weekend home, north of the capital Tegucigalpa.

There, the authorities said, the students were tortured and interrogated before being released under political pressure.

Investigators said the students identified the house as their prison. Forensic experts found traces of human blood there.

The judge, Ana Pinde, said she had alerted immigration officials about the impending order to stop the wanted men from fleeing the country.

But by late on Wednesday none had been detained.

Human rights' groups estimate that CIA-backed death squads were responsible for the disappearance of at least 184 presumed left-wing activists and the murder of dozens more during the 1980s.

Until now amnesty laws have protected many senior police and military officials believed to be behind Honduras' dirty war.

But the judiciary has also ruled that individual cases can now be brought to trial. This is one of the first arrest warrants issued for such a high-level officer and it could well open the way for further prosecutions.

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