A battalion of Salvadoran troops attacked a guerrilla field hospital two weeks ago and killed at least 10 people, including five patients, a doctor and a nurse, the human rights organization of the Roman Catholic Church said Friday.
The organization, Tutela Legal, said examination of the exhumed bodies of two of the female victims indicated that they had been raped and then shot.
The incident occurred Feb. 13 near the village of El Chupadero, in Chalatenango province on the border with Honduras. El Chupadero has been a stronghold for guerrillas of the leftist Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front.
Warning by Quayle
Just 10 days earlier, Vice President Dan Quayle, on a visit to San Salvador, had told army leaders that death squad killings and other human rights violations attributed to the military had to be ended.
Sources close to the military said afterward that Quayle's warning was not taken seriously but as rhetoric aimed at the U.S. Congress and the American public.
A spokesman for the U.S. Embassy said it would have no immediate comment on the hospital incident. Other Western diplomats said the killings were murders.
"These things happen all the time," one said, "but because they occur in remote places, the army gets away with it. This time, it seems to be different because one of (the victims) was a foreigner. But I don't know if that really matters. It hasn't before."
Army officials acknowledged that troops from the Atlacatl Battalion, which has been trained by U.S. advisers as a special attack force, had attacked a guerrilla installation near the place where the bodies were found. They denied that it was a hospital.
But Col. Ciro Lopez Roque, the province's military commander, told reporters that his men killed a Mexican woman who was a physician and several guerrillas. The army reported no casualties.
The Atlacatl Battalion, which is believed to have a U.S. trainer assigned to it at all times, is considered one of the army's toughest and most aggressive units and has frequently been accused of brutality by human rights groups.
A delegation from Tutela Legal inspected the site of the Feb. 13 killings and said it was a hospital. They said wounded guerrillas had been there, along with medical personnel headed by Dr. Alejandra Bravo Betancourt Mancera, 35, a Mexican national.
Physicians and Tutela Legal representatives who examined Betancourt Mancera's body said she had been shot at least 10 times. They said the body bore bruises in areas that would indicate rape.
Also exhumed, they said, was the body of Rosibel Dubon, a 14-year-old Salvadoran nurse. Their report said she had been shot at least 11 times and that she, too, had apparently been raped.
Acting on information supplied by two survivors and residents of the area, the human rights group found the graves of eight other victims, but their bodies were not exhumed.
Tutela Legal said its investigators had learned that the eight victims included five guerrillas and three paramedics.
It said the killings were in flagrant violation of the Salvadoran constitution and the Geneva conventions on the treatment of prisoners.