SAN SALVADOR – El Salvador’s government asked for “forgiveness” Saturday over a civil war-era massacre in 1981 in which soldiers executed more than 1,000 people, nearly half of them children.
Sunday marks the 30th anniversary of the slaughter at the small northeastern village of El Mozote, where troops rounded up men, women and children, accused many of collaborating with leftist guerrillas, and killed them in cold blood.
It was among the worst massacres in the country’s bloody 1980-1992 civil war, which still casts a shadow over the Central American nation.
“I would like to take this opportunity to reiterate on behalf of the government of El Salvador our request for forgiveness to the thousands of innocent victims, but especially the victims of the massacre at El Mozote,” Foreign Minister Hugo Martinez said during a ceremony at the town.
Martinez noted that Salvadoran President Mauricio Funes – the country’s first democratically-elected leftist president since the civil war – had already apologized for other violent incidents attributed to the army, state security forces and paramilitary groups.
“This event seeks to honor the memory of hundreds of innocent people who were murdered 30 years ago here in El Mozote and in other nearby hamlets,” he said.
According to Martinez, “the blindness of state violence also took away innocent lives” in nearby towns La Joya, Rancheria and Los Toriles, and it was important that the government adopt a position “that recognizes the rights of victims and does not evade responsibility of the State.”
The December 11-13, 1981 killings at El Mozote were committed by troops of the now-banned Atlacatl Battalion of the Army. Their crimes, including torture and rape, left the international community appalled.
A truth commission created by the United Nations blamed a number of military officials, some of whom were killed in the civil war. UN officials were present at Saturday’s ceremony in El Mozote.
Activists say they are still waiting for justice, and they hope their case will be taken up by the Inter-American Court of Human Rights based in Costa Rica.
Funes, whose leftist Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front (FMLN) defeated the ruling right-wing party in 2009, has sought to sweep away the demons of El Salvador’s past stemming from its 12-year civil war.
The FMLN is the former coalition of Marxist guerrillas that battled the government during the war, during which 75,000 people were killed and another 7,000 went missing.