TEGUCIGALPA, Honduras -- The commander of the Honduran armed forces said yesterday that the country's military should cooperate with courts investigating human rights abuses, but he stopped short of saying if and when officers already indicted would appear for trial.
"These trials, we must confront them," Gen. Luis Alonso Discua, the chief of staff, said in a radio interview, offering his first public comment since the country's Supreme Court ruled last week that officials accused of rights abuses committed during the 1980s could be tried in civil courts.
"We must confront the courts," he said.
The Supreme Court ruled that a 1991 amnesty did not apply to the officers, thereby reopening a case against nine current and retired military officials accused of kidnapping and torturing six university students in 1982. Arrest warrants were issued last year against three of the suspects, who have remained in hiding.
General Discua made no mention of the fugitives and said nothing as to whether the military would help capture them.
The suspects are all believed to be former members and leaders of a CIA-trained military unit called Battalion 316. During the 1980s, the battalion kidnapped, tortured and murdered hundreds of suspected leftists. It operated as part of the Reagan administration's campaign to wipe out communism in Central America.
General Discua, whose term as chief of the armed forces ends this week, is a former leader of Battalion 316. He has not been formally charged with any human rights abuses. President Carlos Roberto Reina has named him a member of the country's delegation to the United Nations.
In the 1 1/2 -hour radio interview, only 10 minutes were devoted to questions about the Supreme Court case and the indictment of officers. General Discua began his response by describing a 1990 meeting with former leaders of subversive groups in Honduras and with Rafael Leonardo Callejas, then president.
Mr. Callejas, he said, asked both the military and the former subversives to get past their differences and make peace. "The president wanted an amnesty," General Discua said. "And he said that it would cover all and that it would be unconditional." The issue of whether Battalion 316's crimes are covered by the amnesty has yet to be decided. In its ruling last week, the Supreme Court said that if a military official was found guilty of human rights abuses, the judge overseeing the case would decide if the crime is covered by the amnesty.
General Discua said he hoped that the military would enjoy the same benefits of the amnesty as former subversives. More than 100 suspected subversives, who had fled Honduras during the 1980s, returned home after the passage of the amnesty law.
"I have been accused of many things," said General Discua. "Even though I have never done anything to offend anyone or that violated anyone's rights."