SAN SALVADOR — Two men with silencer-equipped handguns killed the president of the Salvadoran Human Rights Commission on Monday as he left home to take two of his six children to school, officials reported.
As the children stood some distance away, the assailants shot Herbert Ernesto Anaya point-blank in a small parking lot, police said.
There was no immediate claim of responsibility, but a spokesman for the Human Rights Commission blamed it on rightist death squads linked to the armed forces.
A government spokesman called the murder "an irrational act" and appealed for calm. A leftist rebel group said that the killing could endanger further talks with the government under the Central American peace plan.
Late Monday, hundreds of political prisoners seized the headquarters of the country's main prison, and a mob burned vehicles in the capital to protest Anaya's murder.
Police said about 800 prisoners took over the headquarters of Mariona Prison, five miles north of the capital. No violence or injuries were reported, and prison authorities were making no moves to force the prisoners to return to their cells.
"We have taken over the headquarters as a measure to repudiate the abominable crime of killing Anaya," the prisoners said in a communique read to radio stations over the prison's only telephone.
Anaya's father, Rafael Lopez, told reporters that his son had been under surveillance by unidentified men and had received several anonymous death threats because of his work with the commission.
"He had had a premonition, and when we talked about it, he told me, 'Look, father, they are going to kill me. They are going to kill me. But that's OK, let them do it,' " Lopez said.
Anaya, 32, was the fourth member of the commission, an independent private organization made up of lawyers and other professionals, to be slain since 1980. Two other members disappeared while in police custody.
As quickly as news of Anaya's death became known abroad, Amnesty International, the London-based human rights organization, called on the government here to conduct a full investigation.
In a statement, the organization said, "His killing came after a wave of threats and abuses directed against human rights workers in recent months."
Anaya, a prominent anti-government critic, had told a news conference last week that there has been an increase in official repression since President Jose Napoleon Duarte signed the Central American regional peace accord in August.
Anaya's assailants fired on him outside his home in the Zacamil district of this capital as he prepared to enter his car, military sources said. He died almost instantly. The children, a girl and a boy, were not hurt.
The commission, founded in 1977, has been highly critical of human rights violations in the government's 7 1/2-year-old war against Marxist-led guerrillas. Rightists within the armed forces have often accused the commission of harboring leftist sympathies.
Police and military sources both said late Monday that they had no immediate clue as to the identity of the gunmen or the motive behind the killing.
Five guerrilla groups, jointly calling themselves the Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front, are fighting to overthrow Duarte's government, and rightist death squads also have been active.
Human Rights Commission spokesman Miguel Angel Montenegro told a news conference, "All the responsibility for this assassination falls on the armed forces high command, the security agencies and the government itself."
Referring to the Central American peace plan, which seeks negotiations between the government and the rebels, Montenegro said the assassination "in no way contributes to the search for peace."
"The work we carry out is an obstacle to the (government's) democratic facade, and we say that they will never silence us. Where there is injustice, where there is repression against Salvadorans, we will continue denouncing it," he said.
sh Continued Violations
Reynaldo Blanco, another commission spokesman, said that Anaya's assassination proves that human rights continue to be violated in El Salvador.
Government spokesman Roberto Viera told a news conference: "This irrational act reflects the level of hate and rancor that exists in the hearts and minds of some Salvadorans." He asserted that there are "obscure and black intentions" afoot to scuttle the peace plan.
Under the plan signed by the five Central American presidents Aug. 7, Salvadoran government and rebel representatives met once in San Salvador and again last week in Caracas, Venezuela, trying to work out a cease-fire.
In a statement distributed to news media, the Revolutionary Democratic Front, an alliance of political and civic leaders that functions as the political arm of the Farabundo Marti front, said: "What sense is there in talking about democratization, cease-fires, political participation when the government continues waging a dirty war with its death squads against unarmed civilians?"