February 6, 2014 / 4:46 AM / 6 years ago

El Salvador top court orders probe of civil war massacre

SAN SALVADOR (Reuters) - El Salvador’s Supreme Court on Wednesday ordered the country’s top prosecutor to investigate the alleged massacre of dozens of civilians in 1981 by army troops during the nation’s bloody civil war.

The court ruled General Prosecutor Luis Martinez had to reopen a previous investigation that had fizzled out without any charges being filed. The court demanded prosecutors charge any guilty parties and release publicly the results of its probe.

The ruling is an unprecedented move by the court to order the probe into a particular case relating to the country’s 1980-1992 civil war.

The Supreme Court said that the prosecutor’s office dragged its feet in the original investigation and the justices ruled that the prosecutor had violated the rights of a group of citizens who had been filing legal complaints about the massacre since 2006.

Military troops allegedly killed about 45 people, including women and children, in the community of San Francisco Angulo.

“The court orders the General Prosecutor to carry out a serious, far-reaching, diligent and conclusive investigation, within a reasonable time,” the court said in a statement.

The ruling comes after Sunday’s presidential election where a former Marxist guerrilla leader fell just shy of an outright victory and who has a strong chance of winning a March run-off vote.

Some 75,000 people died in El Salvador’s civil war, when the leftist Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front, or FMLN, fought a string of right-wing governments that received military backing from the United States.

Central American nations have struggled to move past the deep divisions left by conflicts between leftist rebels and U.S.-backed military forces. The landmark conviction of former Guatemalan dictator Efrain Rios Montt on genocide charges was thrown out by a court last year.

A truth commission investigated some of the worst massacres of El Salvador’s war, but the country’s Congress passed an amnesty law in 1993 that has impeded the prosecution of alleged war crimes.

The Supreme Court is currently studying a challenge to overturn the amnesty law.

Writing by Michael O'Boyle; Editing by Lisa Shumaker

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