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U.S. bans 13 El Salvadoran officials over 1989 priest killings

Jan. 29 (UPI) -- The State Department on Wednesday sanctioned 13 current and former El Salvadoran military officials for their roles in the high-profile extrajudicial killings of eight people, including six Jesuit priests, over 30 years ago during the South American country's civil war.

The six Jesuit priests, their housekeeper and her daughter were killed on Nov. 16, 1989, by uniformed gunmen at Central American University in the capital of San Salvador during the height of a major leftist rebel offensive during the civil war.

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During the 12-year Salvadoran Civil War, the United States backed the rightist government with military and financial aid in their fight against leftist rebels but the deaths of the priests who supported a political solution to the conflict attracted widespread condemnation and attention, souring U.S. support and prompting it to cut military aid to the government.

The extrajudicial killings were widely seen as intended to silence human rights activities and U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo reiterated this sentiment in a statement Wednesday, stating the 13 former and current military individuals, ranging in rank from general to private, were being censored "due to their involvement in violations of human rights ... related to the planning and execution" of the eight people.

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He said without elaborating that the State Department has "credible information" concerning their involvement in the killings, explaining they were being sanctioned under the Department of State Foreign Operations and Related Programs Appropriations Act 2019 that arms the Secretary of State to punish current and former government officials who were involved, directly or indirectly, in committing gross violations of human rights or corruption. The sanctions bar them and their immediate family members from entry to the United States.

"The United States supports the ongoing accountability, reconciliation and peace efforts in El Salvador," Pompeo said. "We value our ongoing working relationship with Salvadoran Armed Forces, but will continue to use all available tools and authorities, as appropriate, to address human rights violations and abuses around the world no matter when they occurred or who perpetrated them."

The El Salvadoran Civil War lasted from 1980 to 1992, resulting in some 75,000 civilians killed by government forces, according to The Center for Justice and Accountability, a U.S.-based non-profit international human rights organization.

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