September 2, 2000

Official to seek release of soldier imprisoned for killing U.S. nuns

                  SAN SALVADOR, El Salvador (AP) -- El Salvador's attorney general says he
                  will fight for the release of one of two former soldiers still imprisoned for the
                  1980 slaying of four U.S. religious workers, local media reported Saturday.

                  Attorney General Miguel Cardoza said Francisco Orlando Contreras has changed
                  and that he would push to have him released, local media reported Saturday. The
                  Supreme Court on Wednesday rejected the former soldier's petition because it
                  believed he had not been rehabilitated.

                  A former member of the country's National Guard, Contreras was one of five
                  men sentenced to 30 years in prison in 1984 for the slayings of nuns Ita Ford,
                  Maura Clarke and Dorothy Kazel, and layworker Jean Donovan during the
                  country's civil war.

                  The women had been detained at a highway checkpoint in December 1980 while
                  headed to the capital from the nearby international airport. Their bullet-riddled
                  bodies were found a day later. They apparently had been raped.

                  Three of the men were freed in 1998 for good behavior under a law that reduced
                  some sentences to ease prison overcrowding. Contreras and Carlos Joaquin
                  Contreras Palacios were kept in prison because they had participated in a prison

                  Families of the victims said they believe the women were targeted because
                  officials suspected they sympathized with leftist guerrillas during the war.

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