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PICO-UNION : 'Trial' Dramatizes Salvadoran Abuses

March 21, 1993|ELSTON CARR

For a few minutes, the sidewalk in front of the Downtown federal building became the scene for a mock trial.

As the lunch crowd streamed from office buildings, a dozen Salvadoran activists and 70 demonstrators last week acted out a theatrical tribunal entitled: "Salvadoran Military on Trial: No Purge, No Peace."

The drama ended with the dismissal of officials accused of carrying out human rights abuses in El Salvador, something local activists have sought for years.

And their cause received a boost last week with the release of a United Nations-sponsored Truth Commission report that blamed Salvadoran government forces for most human rights violations during the country's civil war.

"This is a victory for us in the Salvadoran community," Jorge Noriega said during the 30-minute protest. "It is proof that the fight that brought us here was a just fight, that the Salvadoran government was responsible for so much of the killing."

More than 400,000 Salvadorans came to Los Angeles during the 12-year war that claimed 75,000 civilian lives.

According to Judith Amaya, the director of the Assn. of Salvadorans, the dismissal of the officials who carried out human rights abuses is a crucial step on the road to restoring stability to her war-torn homeland.

The 630-page Truth Commission report chronicled 22,000 incidents of violent human rights abuses during the war. About 85% of the acts were attributed to government forces and 5% to leftist rebels.

It could not be determined who was responsible for the remaining abuse. The report recommended that the parties involved in the war crimes be banned from Salvadoran politics for 10 years.

Claudia Vasquez, a spokeswoman for the Salvadoran Embassy in Washington, said President Alfredo Cristiani has received the Truth Commission report and plans to comply with its recommendations. Cristiani, however, has not set a timetable for compliance, she said.

Under the U.N.-mediated peace accords that took effect last year, Cristiani was to have dismissed more than 400 military and government officials who ordered human rights abuses that ranged from detentions to mass executions.

But 100 military officers and 14 high-ranking officials remain in power.

Last week's demonstration, which was organized by a coalition of Salvadoran activists and American religious groups, called for the Clinton Administration to urge Cristiani to complete the purge of military officials accused of carrying out human rights abuses during the war.

The activists are also calling on Clinton to extend the Deferred Enforced Departure program that allows Salvadoran refugees to temporarily live and work in the United States.

Amaya and other protesters condemned Cristiani's recent call for reconciliation and general amnesty for all individuals involved in the human rights abuses.

"It's true that there needs to be a reconciliation," Amaya said. "But there are those who have committed and are responsible for thousands of assassinations and thousands of acts of torture and thousands of disappearances that have not been accounted for. These things cannot be so easily forgotten."

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