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Canada moves to expel Honduran torture figure


Canada has ordered the expulsion of Fausto Reyes, a former member of a CIA-trained Honduran military unit that kidnapped, tortured and murdered hundreds of people during the 1980s.

Three other former members of the Honduran squad also are in danger of deportation, Canadian officials said. Their residence there was arranged with the help of human rights groups with which they cooperated in exposing the activities of the squad, known as Battalion 316.

Human rights advocates and prosecutors in Honduras expressed the hope that the four men would not be returned to Honduras because they are considered valuable witnesses and might be killed.

The actions by the Canadian government come within a month after The Sun published a series of stories in which the four Hondurans -- Florencio Caballero, Jose Valle, Jose Barrera and Mr. Reyes -- described how Battalion 316 captured, tortured and killed hundreds of people suspected of subversion.

Some 184 victims are still missing and are listed by the Honduran government as "disappeared."

In interviews with The Sun, the four former battalion members, who fled to Canada separately in the mid-1980s, told how they were trained in interrogation techniques by the CIA and how one CIA official visited prisoners in Battalion 316's secret jails.

Battalion 316 operated with U.S. support during the 1980s, at the height of the Reagan administration's war to defeat communism in Central America.

The Sun's reports about Battalion 316, particularly the confessions of Mr. Reyes, Mr. Caballero, Mr. Valle and Mr. Barrera, received attention from the Canadian media and government, forcing a re-examination of whether to permit the four former battalion members to remain.

Mr. Reyes, who was a motorcycle officer in the Honduran military police from 1980 to 1986 and helped Battalion 316 capture prisoners, has been ordered to leave Canada. The 39-year-old man had been working in Brockville, Ontario, as a cab driver. His wife and five children have been permitted to stay.

'I will surely be killed'

"I am devastated," Mr. Reyes said in a telephone interview. "They are trying to force me to go back to Honduras. Do they know that if I go back I will surely be killed?"

The Canadian government has set an Aug. 2 hearing on the deportation of Mr. Caballero, who is 37. He may appeal the findings of that hearing.

Mr. Caballero told The Sun how Battalion 316 prisoners were tortured, including the brutal treatment of a Honduran woman who was held in secret jails for 78 days in 1983. However, Mr. Caballero denied that he was a torturer.

"The [immigration] department will make arguments as to why we feel he should be removed from Canada," said Lucille LeBlanc, a spokeswoman for Citizenship and Immigration Canada.

Ms. LeBlanc said an investigation is under way into the status of Mr. Barrera, 36, and Mr. Valle, 37.

In interviews with The Sun, Mr. Valle admitted that he was a torturer in Battalion 316, using methods that included suffocating prisoners with a rubber mask. He also admitted that he murdered prisoners.

All four of the former Battalion 316 members told The Sun they were motivated by high pay and prestige rather than politics. They added that if they had not obeyed the orders to torture and kill, they would have been murdered themselves.

"Within the organization, there were many who were not in agreement, but they couldn't get out," Mr. Caballero told The Sun in an interview in Canada. "If we wanted to leave, we would have to leave dead."

Human rights advocates and the Honduran government are urging the government of Canada to allow the four former Battalion 316 members to stay in that country -- where they live free from prosecution.

"They are killers, but they are not the people who gave the orders to kill," said Leo Valladares, the Honduran government's human rights commissioner. "Although it may seem like a contradiction -- human rights groups protecting human rights violators -- it is not.

"We see these men as important pieces of the investigation," he added. "We must keep them alive so that they can provide evidence about who gave them orders to kill."

Punish the leaders

Bertha Oliva, director of the Committee of Relatives of the Disappeared in Honduras, agreed.

"For us, it is most important to punish the leaders of Battalion 316," said Ms. Oliva, whose husband, Tomas Nativi, was kidnapped by Battalion 316 in June 1981 and is presumed dead. "That would be the greatest justice."

The Honduran attorney general who is assembling cases against Battalion 316 commanders said his staff has met with officials at the Canadian Consulate in Honduras, urging the government of Canada to let the four former members of Battalion 316 remain in that country.

"If they come here, then they are in danger from the men who ordered them to kill and torture," said Edmundo Orellana, the attorney general. "We believe some of those people are still in positions of power in Honduras."

Ramon Custodio, president of the Committee for the Defense of Human Rights of Honduras, explained that Gen. Luis Alonso Discua, who headed Battalion 316 in 1984, is currently head of the Honduran armed forces. And Col. Alexander Hernandez, identified as the man who commanded Battalion 316 when it was created in 1980, still serves in the Honduran military police.

Mr. Custodio plans to travel to Canada to testify on behalf of Mr. Caballero. He is also seeking another country that would give refuge to the four former battalion members.

"The truth is that if they come back to Honduras, there is no way anyone could guarantee their lives," Mr. Custodio said.

Witnesses have been killed

People in Honduras who have dared to publicly provide evidence of Battalion 316's abuses have been threatened, attacked and killed. Earlier this year, Mr. Valladares sent his children to live outside Honduras after repeated death threats and the murder of one of his bodyguards.

Officials at the attorney general's office said that not only would the lives of the four former battalion members be in danger if they were returned to Honduras, but their return would jeopardize the Honduran government's investigation into the violence of Battalion 316.

Other Honduran military officials who have indicated a willingness to testify might withdraw, said Ricardo Pineda, assistant special attorney for human rights.

"But if all goes well, and the [four former battalion members] are allowed to stay in Canada, then other military officials would see that they could trust us to protect their safety," Mr. Pineda said. "We would get a lot more cooperation."

Officials from the attorney general's office plan to travel to Canada in the next few weeks to interview the four.

Attorney General Orellana said he expects indictments against former leaders of Battalion 316 to be filed this year. It would be the first time that high-level military officials face charges by the government for the disappearances of the 1980s.

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