February 21, 2001

Salvadoran father reunited with son after 20 years

                  CANTON EL CERRON, El Salvador (AP) -- For 20 years, Tomas Avelar
                  thought his wife and four children had died in El Salvador's civil war.

                  But on Tuesday he tearfully embraced his eldest son, 26-year-old Michael
                  Kennedy who is living with his adoptive family in Johnstown, Pennsylvania.

                  "A long time of not seeing you, son. I'm very happy," Avelar said to the boy he
                  had named Jose Fredi years ago.

                  Salvadoran government soldiers found Jose Fredi, then 5, hidden in a cave after
                  a clash in the northern province of Chalatenango in 1981, near the start of the
                  12-year civil war that ended in 1992 after leaving more than 75,000 dead.

                  Avelar, now 50, was a leftist guerrilla. He said his wife, Rosa Melida Oliva, was
                  killed by the army and he later learned that his children had been hidden in a

                  "They killed her and they took (the children), that's how I lost them," Avelar
                  said, using a handkerchief to dry his tears during the reunion in the yard of his
                  small house 40 miles north of the capital, San Salvador.

                  The local Association to Search for Disappeared Children, which hunts for
                  children who vanished during the war, said Michael and three sisters,
                  8-month-old Elizabeth, 18-month-old Santos Catalina and 3-year-old Maria Delia
                  were taken by troops to San Salvador.

                  Jose Fredi was put up for adoption. In March 1984, he was adopted by William
                  and Diane Kennedy of Washington, Pennsylvania.

                  "He is part of my family, and I have done my part," said William Kennedy. "But it
                  is important that he knows his father, his sisters and his real country."

                  Michael, who works at a restaurant in Johnstown, said he remembers little of his
                  Salvadoran past.

                  "Only images come to me; I don't remember much," he said. "But for me to be
                  here beside my father is a dream come true. I don't know what will happen from
                  now on, but I promise that I will always be close to my father."

                  The association used DNA testing to identify Jose Fredi.

                  Father Jon Cortina, the Spanish priest who directs the association, said the group
                  is trying to find the sisters.

                  Maria Delia was apparently adopted by another U.S. family and Santos Catalina
                  by a Swiss family. Elizabeth probably was kept by a military family, he said.

                  He said the association so far has identified 203 children since May 1995.

                  Copyright 2001 The Associated Press.