Top officers face ouster for abuses in El Salvador


SAN SALVADOR, El Salvador -- A confidential list o Salvadoran officers to be purged from their military posts next month for reasons including human rights violations includes the defense minister, his deputy minister and more than 110 officers, according to people familiar with the list.

The purge orders, seen as one of the most serious tests of civilian authority over the armed forces, have raised tensions to a new level here as a series of important deadlines, established in the peace accord reached last year, slip by.

"This is a very crucial moment," a moderate Salvadoran politician said late last week. "We are not going to return to war, but what happens now will determine whether this really works as it was meant to."

The list, forwarded to President Alfredo Cristiani from a commission established in the accord that ended 12 years of civil war here, was unexpectedly long.

It names several senior officers whom Mr. Cristiani has moved to diplomatic posts out of the country because of complaints about their human rights records.

Those familiar with the list said it includes several officers considered supportive of Mr. Cristiani and the peace process, including his ally, the defense minister, Gen. Rene Emilio Ponce.

At the end of a war in which El Salvador became known abroad for the massacres of peasants, the killings of nuns and priests and the murder of an archbishop, only one senior officer has ever been convicted for such an offense.

Some members of a ring of former and active-duty officers who were implicated in the kidnappings of right-wing businessmen in the mid-1980s have returned to the country and are said to be living undisturbed.

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