TEGUCIGALPA -- The attorney for three military officers sought in connection with human rights abuses during the 1980s asked the Honduran Court of Appeals yesterday to void arrest warrants issued against his clients.
The fugitives are believed to be former members of a CIA-trained military unit called Battalion 316. The battalion stalked, kidnapped, tortured and murdered hundreds of suspected leftists during the 1980s as the Reagan administration sought to wipe out communism in Central America.
They are among 10 former and present military men specifically accused of kidnapping and torturing six university students in 1982.
Judge Roy Medina, who is heading the investigation of human rights abuses, ordered the arrest of the three officers this week after they each disobeyed a summons to answer questions about the charges against them.
The suspects have fled from their homes, according to security officers keeping an eye on their houses, and they may have fled the country.
Yesterday, their lead attorney, Carlos Lopez Osorio, asked the Court of Appeals for the arrest warrants to be suspended.
Mr. Lopez was not available for comment. However in his motion, he argues that his clients are being harassed by Judge Medina and that his clients are covered by an amnesty decree passed in 1991 to pardon political crimes of the 1980s.
The Court of Appeals' decision is expected early next week.
Among the three men ordered arrested is Col. Alexander Hernandez, inspector general of the Honduran military police, who is believed to be a former leader of Battalion 316.
He is considered the central figure in the official inquiry that marks the first effort to prosecute officers implicated in the activities of Battalion 316.
Judge Medina said he has not decided whether to order the arrest of the remaining seven suspects.
"I hope the first three arrest warrants send a message to the other defendants that this court must be obeyed," he said. "I hope they will respond to my summons so that I do not have to order more arrests."
The formal investigation began one month after The Sun reported that the CIA and the State Department collaborated with Battalion 316.
The four-part series revealed that U.S. officials knew of the battalion's abuses but deliberately misled Congress about the violence in order to keep up public support for the Reagan administration's campaign against communism in the region.
At a news conference yesterday, President Carlos Roberto Reina indicated he would not reject the idea of amnesty applying to the military officers.
"Amnesty for political crimes, forgetting the past, that is very healthy," he said. "All societies have done it. We cannot keep our eyes focused on the past, casting blame at one another."
But he added, "[Amnesty] does not satisfy the families of those who were victims. So there are many things that must be considered so that Honduran society can reconcile and so that it can stop turning in vicious circles that produce hate, that produce resentment."
Gen. Luis Alonso Discua, chief of the Honduran Armed Forces, also spoke yesterday about the resentment sparked by the trial against the 10 military officers.
"The mission of the armed forces is to protect the people of Honduras," he said in a speech during a military ceremony. "We have always respected the laws. We would never separate ourselves from the efforts to fortify democracy."
He added, "And this institution should not be the target of campaigns of vengeance."