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Schafik Handal, 75; Former Guerrilla Chief Signed 1992 Salvadoran Peace Accord

January 26, 2006|From Associated Press

SAN SALVADOR — Schafik Handal, the leader of the Salvadoran left and an ex-guerrilla commander who fought U.S.-backed government troops during the country's 12-year civil war, has died. He was 75.

Handal lost consciousness in the airport of El Salvador's capital, San Salvador, shortly upon his arrival after attending Sunday's inauguration of Bolivian President Evo Morales.

He was taken by helicopter to a hospital, where he died Tuesday, apparently of a heart attack.

Born to Christian Palestinian immigrants, Handal was head of the Salvadoran Communist Party before it merged with four other leftist groups into the Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front, or FMLN, in 1980. Handal acted as the group's top diplomat during the civil war, traveling through Latin America and Europe to gain support.

Backed by Cuba and the Soviet Union, the FMLN waged a powerful insurgency against various conservative military and military-influenced administrations that were supported by presidents Reagan and George H.W. Bush.

Handal led the communist faction of the coalition before it became a legal political party in 1992, when he was one of the signers of the U.N.-brokered peace treaty.

The former guerrilla commander was friends with Bolivia's Morales, along with Venezuela's leftist President Hugo Chavez and Cuba's Fidel Castro.

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