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Thursday, 26 October, 2000, 02:07 GMT 03:07 UK
New probe into priest killings
Cristiani
Alfredo Cristiani led the country out of civil war
The authorities in El Salvador are re-opening an investigation into the former president, Alfredo Cristiani, and army officers accused of the infamous killing of six Jesuit priests 11 years ago during the civil war.

Attorney General, Belisario Artiga, acknowledged it was a controversial decision, but said he hoped the new investigation would close a painful chapter in the country's recent history.


I am ready for El Salvador to send a message to the world

Attorney General, Belisario Artiga
Mr Cristiani is accused of failing to prevent the killings, which took place on university grounds in 1989 during a period of intense fighting between the armed forces and left-wing guerrillas.

Two soldiers were convicted of the murders, but were later pardoned in a general amnesty at the end of the civil war.

"This is giving us an opportunity to discuss if it is possible to open the investigation" into those who planned the killing, the Attorney General said in a televised interview.

"I am ready for El Salvador to send a message to the world" that such cases can be investigated in the country, he added.

No new evidence

The announcement comes two days after a judge refused to order the case reopened, saying that no new evidence had been presented.

The priests, five Spaniards and one Salvadoran, were murdered by an army unit which apparently suspected them of aiding leftist rebels during the country's 12-year civil war, which ended in 1992.

guerrilla
More than 75,000 were killed during the conflict

Nine soldiers were tried in the case, but only two were convicted.

They were freed in 1993 as part of a broad amnesty declared by then-President Alfredo Cristiani.

Prosecutors had earlier said that the amnesty had blocked further investigations into the case.

The Jesuit-run school where the men had worked, the Jose Simeon Canas Central American University, had asked prosecutors to open a probe into higher ranking officials who might have planned or failed to prevent the killings.

President Francisco Flores had opposed reopening the case, saying it "would reopen wounds" of the war.

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See also:

25 Mar 00 | Americas
Salvadoreans remember slain cleric
09 Jul 98 | UK
Martyrs of the modern era
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