October 25, 2001

Former fighters try to enter El Salvador's Central Bank

SAN SALVADOR, El Salvador (AP)
--Police dispersed 2,000 former paramilitary fighters with tear gas and rubber
bullets Wednesday after the protesters tried to enter El Salvador's Central
Bank. Dozens were injured.

The demonstrators were demanding payments of $1,000 each for the 37,700 people
who served in the country's former Civilian Self Defense Patrols.

The former patrol members, who have been blamed for atrocities committed during
the country's 12-year civil war, say they were effectively employed by the
government to fight leftist rebels, and thus are owed payment for their services.

During Wednesday's confrontation, two protesters were shot and wounded by
rubber bullets, and 50 others were treated for tear gas exposure, Red Cross
spokesman Carlos Lopez said.

Protesters threw rocks at police, and six officers were injured, including one with
"severe facial injuries," said police director Mauricio Sandoval.

He said some 10 protesters were arrested, including three leaders.

Minutes before the confrontation, President Francisco Flores said the former
fighters were being misled by their leaders. He added that his government had given
them more than 7,000 houses and land titles.

Since the government and leftist guerrillas signed a peace treaty in 1992, the former
paramilitary fighters have demanded compensation.

Flores has said El Salvador cannot afford the $1,000 service payment because the
country is still cleaning up after two strong earthquakes caused hundreds of millions
of dollars in damages earlier this year.

In June, he authorized the army to quell any disturbances by the ex-combatants.

Some farmers were forced by the army to join the patrols, which were armed
groups of civilians that aided soldiers in a brutal counterinsurgency program in the
1980-92 civil war.

Copyright 2001 The Associated Press.