SAN SALVADOR — At least 14 civilians have been killed in political violence in the last two weeks in El Salvador, including two political prisoners who died while in military custody, according to human rights and military officials and local press reports.
Manuel de Jesus Araujo died at La Esperanza men's prison before dawn Sunday after security forces moved into the political section of the facility to remove 17 political prisoners who were not released under an amnesty last month.
According to the Defense Ministry, Araujo jumped from the roof of the penitentiary. The leftist Committee of Political Prisoners of El Salvador, however, charged that Araujo was tortured, killed in his cell and then thrown from a balcony in the prison.
Also at the men's prison, Gerardo Hernandez Torres died Dec. 16 after having been captured by army troops and held in the custody of the National Police.
"The autopsy clearly demonstrates that the cause of death was torture," Msgr. Gregorio Rosa Chavez, the auxiliary archbishop of San Salvador, said in his Sunday homily.
Both prisoners were accused of being leftist guerrillas.
The remaining political prisoners were transferred to other jails throughout the country. The move apparently was meant to disband the political section of the men's penitentiary, which has been run by the political prisoners committee. Before more than 400 political prisoners were released under the amnesty, prison guards rarely entered the political section of the prison.
The Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front guerrillas, meanwhile, launched an attack at a coffee plantation last week in which seven civilians were killed.
Reporters who visited the plantation in the eastern province of Usulutan were told that the rebels attacked army troops posted to protect the coffee harvest, one of the principal targets of the guerrillas' campaign of economic sabotage.
Workers and an administrator at the farm said a woman, her teen-age daughter and nephew were shot to death when rebels stormed a storage room where they were sleeping. Two women cooks also were shot to death, apparently by the guerrillas, and their bodies burned when the rebels set fire to the farmhouses. Two coffee pickers were shot during the fighting, one apparently by the guerrillas and the other while caught in cross-fire.
Also last week, two nurses from the government Social Security Institute were machine-gunned in an ambulance near Zacatecoluca, on a highway south of the capital. Lidia Esther Herrera de Castellanos and Victoria Canenguez de Escobar died Saturday. The armed forces have blamed the guerrillas for the attack, and the guerrillas have blamed the military.
In an unrelated event Saturday, Medardo Serafin Ayala Perez, a telephone company worker and member of the leftist Telephone Workers Assn., was gunned down at a bus stop near his home in the Zacamil neighborhood of San Salvador. No one claimed responsibility for the death squad-style killing.
It appears the assassination may have been in retaliation for a rebel attack on a police patrol in the capital Friday. Three officers died in that attack.
The other two known civilian victims of the last two weeks were Argelio Perez Morales, a teacher and member of the leftist National Assn. of Salvadoran Educators, who was shot to death Dec. 12, and Rene Joaquin Cardenas Vargas, representative of the government Human Rights Commission in the eastern city of San Miguel.