El Salvador Must Keep Promise to Stop Political Violence Government Gave Limited Cooperation to Investigative Group

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A CLUMSY June robbery in downtown San Salvador, a new series of death threats, and last week's report by a Salvadoran investigative body into "illegal armed groups" all convey the same message: Politically motivated violence continues in El Salvador.

This violence often involves members and officials of the armed forces and the national police. Each of these events prompts the implementation of military, police, and judicial reforms called for by the 1992 United Nations peace accords that ended El Salvador's 12-year civil war.

In November, a "joint group" was appointed to investigate a series of assassinations and their relationship to illegal armed groups or "death squads." As mandated, the group issued a report last Thursday, noting that it had ample evidence of politically-motivated violence in El Salvador. The violence, it noted, is carried out by a broad network of criminal activity. Significantly, the group cited the active participation by senior officials of the armed forces and the national police.

The joint group admitted frustration with the limited cooperation it received from government officials, political parties, and nongovernmental organizations. Even before the report was issued, many said the presence of three government appointees to the four-member group was likely to discourage candor on the part of potential witnesses. It seems that this was the case.

Because of limited evidence, the group reserved the identification of some individuals involved to a private addendum; however, the report forcefully cited the involvement of armed forces and national police personnel.

The link between political terror and for-profit crime has a long and sad history in El Salvador. In the 1970s and '80s, military officers were paid by the wealthy to eliminate "leftists." In the mid-'80s, a military kidnapping ring turned on its patrons and began abducting wealthy businessmen.

The joint group found evidence of new structures and forms for the violence that continues to plague El Salvador. According to the group's report, common crime, rather than political motivation, is now the driving force behind the violence, but the armed groups retain their capacity to execute political crimes as well. The joint group also found evidence of "private political violence" solely for the purpose of settling "past accounts."

The report stresses the importance of the new Civilian National Police (PNC) to replace the hated national police. The group calls for a PNC special unit to investigate crimes that may be politically motivated. Furthermore, the report emphasizes the need for judicial reforms, as called for in the peace accords, to be more strongly enforced.

The joint group also calls on the Salvadoran government to control intelligence gathering, ending such activity by the armed forces. …