LONDON -- Almost 300 peasants in El Salvador were massacred by Honduran and El Salvadoran troops in a border 'cleaning operation' which the two governments deny ever took place, the Sunday Times reported.
Troops herded together peasants from Las Aradas last May 14 and machine gunned them down while soldiers from both countries shot others fleeing 'in flocks' across the Sumpul River, which marks the border between northern El Salvador and Honduras.
Members of Orden, El salvador's right-wing paramilitary organization, meanwhile, threw babies and young children into the air, slashing them with machetes, cutting off their heads and slitting them in two, the paper quoted witnesses as saying.
'We are killing the children of subversion,' one soldier told a mother, the paper said.
The Sunday Times said the U.S. Embassy in Tegucigalpa, the Honduran capital, first denied there was evidence to support claims of a massacre, but later said 'something happened' on the Sumpul.
Quoting a personal account from the Rev. Earl Gallagher, a New York priest who arrived in the village a day after the alleged massacre, the paper said the banks of the river were thick with buzzards eating corpses.
According to Margarita Lopez, a 16 year-old villager, the massacre began at 10 a.m. with an explosion of gunfire which lasted for six hours.
'The bullets came in fistfuls,' Lopez said. 'They went through the walls of the houses, people were falling and cattle were dying. The bullets were everywhere.'
Genaro Guardado told how his daughter, Ernestina, was shot in the back of the head as she tried to swim the river and said troops 'took groups to one side and machine gunned them.' A mother told how two of her children lay dying alongside her in the river and how she saw the head of a child float past.
Rosabel Sibrian said the main slaughter took place on the river bank near Las Aradas.
'There were about 50 soldiers and they gathered a big group together,' said Sibrian. 'Then they shot them. The people were screaming. Those who would not die were beaten on the heads with rifle butts.'