December 10, 2000

El Salvador town buries loved ones on massacre anniversary

                  EL MOZOTE, El Salvador (AP) -- The coffins circled the small plaza of this
                  mountain town in the pre-dawn hours as the villagers followed, singing church
                  hymns broken up by the tears that waited nearly a decade to fall.

                  Nine years after one of the worst massacres in El Salvador's civil war, villagers
                  buried 37 of their loved ones in a humble ceremony Sunday -- and said their final

                  "Today you will rest in peace, in the peace of our God," said Gregorio
                  Hernandez, his voice quivering as his companions buried six of the town's
                  children between the ages of 3 and 12 next to a monument for the victims.

                  The remains buried Sunday are among 200 recovered so far in the municipality
                  of Meanguera where local residents and human rights group believe more than
                  1,000 peasants were gunned down by U.S.-trained Salvadoran soldiers in
                  December 1981 in what has come to be known as the Mozote massacre.

                  The peasants were believed to be sympathizers of the rebel army, the Farabundo
                  Marti National Liberation Front.

                  Argentinean experts started digging up the graves in 1992, but later took a
                  seven-year hiatus after funds ran out. They resumed their work in April at the
                  request of family members, who wanted to give their loved ones a Christian
                  burial. Church officials are searching for funds to continue the digging in the

                  During a midnight Mass on Saturday, more than 500 poor farmers and their
                  families prayed in front of the two dozen coffins placed on a platform outside the
                  small church in this town, 200 kilometers (125 miles) northeast of San Salvador.
                  Twenty-two of the dead were children, some of whom shared the same coffin.

                  Four hours later, men carted the coffins around the main plaza.

                  Thirty-one of the victims were taken to their nearby hometown of Jocoaitique to
                  be buried.

                  But while the findings have brought peace to their families, it is unlikely they will
                  help in prosecuting those who carried out the killings: An amnesty law approved
                  in 1992, two months after peace accords were signed, prevents the prosecution
                  of soldiers, guerrillas and civilians for any atrocities committed from 1980 to

                  More than 75,000 Salvadorans died during the 12-year civil war between
                  guerrillas and hard line state forces.

                  Rufina Amaya lost 21 family members, among them her husband, Domingo, and
                  her four daughters, ranging in age from eight months to 9 years old.

                  Sunday's services brought the memories rushing back for Amaya.

                  "They took us from our houses in the afternoon to kill us, but that night I
                  managed to hide myself in the bushes," said the 60-year-old woman, as tears
                  welled up in her eyes. "My God saved me, but my family did not have such luck.
                  ... I will never forget them."

                  Copyright 2000 The Associated Press.