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Troops Who Killed 4 Nuns Blame Officers

From Associated Press

The Salvadoran troops convicted of killing four American churchwomen in 1980 now say they were carrying out orders from superiors, a human rights group said Friday.

The State Department called on the Salvadoran government to vigorously pursue any new evidence in the 18-year-old case.

The Lawyers Committee for Human Rights, a New York group representing the families of the slain women, said in a statement that the four imprisoned guardsmen made their admissions during interviews in El Salvador last week.

Salvadoran and U.S. officials have always said the killers acted on their own.

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The Salvadoran military press office declined comment on the latest allegations.

Schafik Handal, director of the former rebel group FMLN, or Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front, said that the alleged disclosures leave him with no doubt that the killings were part of a high-level military plot to defeat the leftist rebellion.

Handal said he suspects the men are making the admission now, 18 years after the killings and 14 years after the convictions, because military officials have failed to free them from prison.

Scott Greathead, one of the lawyers who interviewed the guardsmen for the committee, said they might have kept silent about the orders out of fear of retaliation.

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“Years have passed and the risks have diminished considerably,” Greathead said.

The nuns were killed Dec. 2, 1980, after being stopped at a military checkpoint as they were driving from the airport to San Salvador. Their bullet-riddled bodies were buried beside the road.

The Salvadoran high command is believed to have viewed the women as sympathetic to the guerrillas.


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