El Salvador president faces probe over search for wartime massacre files

SAN SALVADOR (Reuters) - A court in El Salvador has asked the prosecutor’s office to investigate whether President Nayib Bukele and his defense minister blocked a judicial inspection of military archives aimed at uncovering evidence of a massacre in 1981.

According to a court document released on Monday, the inspection was connected to a probe of the killing of nearly 1,000 people, around half of them children, in El Mozote during the country’s civil war to bring justice for the victims.

El Salvador’s government for years denied having perpetrated the slaughter. But in 2012 the government of then-President Mauricio Funes acknowledged the state’s role and apologized to the victims’ families.

One of the worst tragedies of the war that pitted leftist guerrillas against the U.S.-backed Salvadoran army, soldiers executed unarmed villagers of El Mozote and surrounding hamlets in the eastern part of the country as they searched for guerrillas.

On June 15, the San Francisco Gotera court in charge of investigating the case ordered a series of legal searches at military headquarters.

But on six different occasions between September and October, soldiers denied Judge Jorge Guzman and a group of experts entry to various facilities.

“Crimes have been incurred by act or omission on the part of the president of the republic and general commander of the armed forces, and the national defense minister, who allegedly gave the order to deny access,” the court document said.

The document asked the prosecutor’s office to investigate the possible theft, destruction, concealment or displacement of documents.

Bukele said in September military files relating to the massacre had been destroyed and that it was not clear by whom. Bukele promised to “declassify” and hand over to the authorities the few documents left.

The president’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Reporting by Nelson Renteria; Writing by Stefanie Eschenbacher; Editing by Sonya Hepinstall

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