Salvadoran court blocks arrests for priest murders

Reuters News
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Posted: Aug 24, 2011 10:10 PM
Salvadoran court blocks arrests for priest murders

SAN SALVADOR (Reuters) - El Salvador's Supreme Court on Wednesday said it will not order the arrest or extradition of a group of former soldiers accused of killing six Jesuit priests, one of the most notorious atrocities of the Central American nation's 12-year civil war.

Spain's High Court ruled in May that 20 Salvadoran ex-soldiers should be tried for the 1989 murders of the five Spanish and one Salvadoran priests and ordered 19 of them arrested -- one is in jail -- for terrorist murder and crimes against humanity.

In a so-called "red notice" issued earlier this month, international police agency Interpol said 10 of the former soldiers were wanted for extradition.

El Salvador's highest court, however, ruled on Wednesday that Interpol had required that the soldiers be located but not arrested or extradited.

"Here, for us, the case is closed," Judge Ulises del Dios Guzman told journalists.

Salvadoran soldiers shot the priests at their home at a university in San Salvador to silence their strong criticism of rights abuses committed by the country's U.S.-backed army during the civil war that ended in 1992.

The residence's housekeeper and her teenage daughter were also killed in the attack, which drew worldwide condemnation and highlighted the brutality of one of the Cold War's nastiest conflicts. An estimated 75,000 were killed in the war.

The priests, who were murdered a few days into a major Marxist guerrilla offensive in the capital, had often been accused by right-wing groups of sympathizing with the rebels.

Two officers were jailed in 1992 in El Salvador for the murder of the priests, but were freed little more than a year later under an amnesty.

Spanish judges have used international law in recent years to begin proceedings against soldiers who have not been prosecuted in their own countries, including Chile, Argentina, Iraq, Israel and the United States.

(Reporting by Nelson Renteria; Writing by Tim Gaynor and Elinor Comlay; Editing by Paul Simao)