Salvadoran guerrillas admitted today that their forces may have executed two crew members of an American helicopter they shot down in the eastern part of the country Jan. 2.
The rebels of the Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front said in a communique delivered to news organizations that two guerrillas have been arrested “on suspicion of having assassinated wounded prisoners of war.”
The downing of the helicopter and charges that the crew had been executed apparently played a role in President Bush’s decision this week to ask Congress to restore $42.5 million in military aid to El Salvador. The money has been frozen because of what the Administration said was a lack of progress in solving several human rights abuse cases in El Salvador.
Other reasons for the Bush Administration request to restore the military aid include contentions that the rebels continue getting arms from outside the country, especially sophisticated missiles.
The helicopter was on a flight from San Salvador to Honduras and was flying low to avoid surface-to-air missiles when it was downed with small-arms fire.
At first the FMLN denied the killings, then said it would investigate them.
Army Chief Warrant Officer Daniel S. Scott, 39, apparently was killed outright in the crash.
Autopsy reports indicated that Pfc. Earnest G. Dawson Jr., 20, and Lt. Col. David H. Pickett, 40, survived the crash but were later shot at close range. The reports indicated that both had several wounds from at least three weapons.
The helicopter was downed near the village of Lolotique.
The communique said preliminary investigations showed there is evidence to “presume that a part of the crew, could have been assassinated by one or more members of our military units” who were under “preventive detention.”
It said the rebel command decided to expand its investigation because of differing versions of events it got from its troops.