El Salvador denies receiving extradition request in Jesuit massacre case

At issue is whether Spanish Judge Velasco can try army officials despite Central American nation's amnesty law

The government of El Salvador said on Wednesday that it has not received any formal extradition request from the Spain for the 20 former military officers wanted by the High Court for the 1989 massacre of five Spanish Jesuit priests during the civil war that tore apart the Central American nation.

Salvadoran Foreign Minister Hugo Martínez acknowledged that Lyon-based Interpol has issued capture-orders for the 20 men at the request of High Court Judge Eloy Velasco who is investigating the so-called "Jesuit case." The Salvadoran Supreme Court met to discuss the extraditions but has not arrived at any decision and would take up the case at its next session on Thursday, said Chief Justice Belamino Jaime.

More information
El Salvador court mulls extradition of nine Jesuit massacre suspects

The men are charged with planning and participating in the November 16, 1989 massacre where military officers entered the Universidad Centroamericana (UCA) and shot dead the rector Ignacio Ellacuría; fellow priests Amando López, Juan Ramón Moreno, Segundo Montes and Ignacio Martín Baró, as well as the Salvadoran Joaquín López y López, and the cook Elba Julia Ramos and her 16-year-old daughter Celina.

Meanwhile, lawmakers and civil rights activists in El Salvador are divided over whether to extradite the former army officers.

At issue is whether Judge Velasco, who issued the warrants, is prohibited from trying the 20 former officers under the 1992 Chapultapec peace accords that put an end to the 12-year Salvadoran civil war and paved the way for a general Amnesty Law. Former members of the peace accords' negotiating committee are divided over whether Spain has the right to put the retired officers, including a former defense minister, on trial in Madrid.

Nine of the 20 men surprisingly turned themselves in to a special military brigade on Sunday and are asking for legal protection against the Spanish arrest orders.

Óscar Santamaría, a former member of the negotiating committee representing the rightwing ARENA party, said two trials in the Jesuit case were held in El Salvador in 1999 and 2000. Two officers were convicted but later released on the basis of the Amnesty Law.

"The government of El Salvador through the Foreign Ministry, should give a clear response to Spain, saying that the court is violating the principles of international law because it is trying to act as an international court of justice," he told the San Salvador daily La Página on Wednesday.

Another former member of the commission, Dagoberto Gutiérrez, believes that Spain has every right to put the men on trial because the case involves the murder of Spanish citizens.

"No one likes it when someone comes and metes out justice in their home," said Gutiérrez, who is assistant dean at the Salvadoran Lutheran University. "We have a juridical-legal problem here, which we cannot avoid because there are treaties that have been signed with Spain, including an extradition treaty."

Velasco issued arrest warrants on May 30 against the former military officers, charging them with terrorism, murder and crimes against humanity.

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