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Salvadoran Army Accused of Massacres

March 28, 1985

WASHINGTON (AP) _ A human rights group charged Thursday that the U.S.-backed Salvadoran military has used indiscriminate attacks, including massacres, to terrorize civilians into fleeing zones controlled by leftist guerrillas.

In a 77-page report entitled ″Draining the Sea,″ the New York-based Americas Watch Committee accused the Salvadoran military of ″terror tactics - bombing, strafing, shellings and, occasionally, massacres of civilians.″

The report also criticized the Reagan administration for denying that two alleged massacres happened, despite accounts of the incidents given to American reporters and a church human rights group.

And it denounced leftist guerrilla groups for assassinating right-wing political leaders and for executing seven leading residents of one village suspected of informing the army about guerrilla movements.

Americas Watch, which has issued periodic reports on human rights in Central America, said El Salvador’s government ″may be fairly charged with committing war crimes″ for its systematic use of attacks on civilians to win its 5-year-old war.

Using Mao Tse-tung’s metaphor that a guerrilla needs popular support as a fish needs the sea, Americas Watch said, ″The Salvadoran armed forces are draining the sea in order to deny the fish sustenance.″

The report specifically cited two alleged massacres - one last July near Los Llanitos in Cabanas province where an estimated 68 people were killed in an army sweep and another in August near Las Vueltas in Chalatenango. In both incidents, government troops were accused of raping and murdering peasant women and systematically executing unarmed civilians.

Despite purported eyewitness accounts reported in the American press and by a Roman Catholic human rights group, State Department and Salvadoran officials denied that the massacres took place. In the past, U.S. officials have charged that guerrilla sympathizers fabricate massacre accounts to discredit the Salvadoran army.

The Americas Watch report said that besides aerial and ground attacks, the Salvadoran military has used ″more humane methods″ to forcibly move civilians from combat areas to create ″free-fire zones.″

This week, President Reagan denounced the leftist Nicaraguan government for the ″forced movement of tens of thousands of people″ from villages where U.S.-backed rebels have been active. He compared the action to the late Soviet leader Josef Stalin’s ″Gulag relocation″ of opponents who were put in a system of prison camps.

The Nicaraguan government claimed it moved the civilians because it could not protect them in their villages.

In its report, Americas Watch accused leftist Salvadoran guerrillas of killing 29 civilians during the last six months of 1984, including seven residents of the town of Cacaopera on July 22.

The report added that the guerrillas have stopped a controversial practice of forcibly recruiting Salvadoran peasants, and it noted that the government has also used forced recruitment to fill its military ranks.

Americas Watch is private group that monitors human rights in the Western Hemisphere. It is affiliated with Helsinki Watch, which studies human rights violations in Soviet-bloc countries.

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