February 26, 2016 / 12:39 AM / 2 years ago

Protesters march over extradition of Salvadoran soldiers to Spain

SAN SALVADOR (Reuters) - Friends and relatives of Salvadoran soldiers accused of murdering six Jesuit priests during the country’s civil war marched on Thursday to protest their extradition to Spain and press for them to be released.

A protester holds up the national seal during a protest in San Salvador, El Salvador, February 25, 2016. REUTERS/Jose Cabezas

El Salvador earlier this month detained four soldiers wanted over the 1989 killings after Spanish Judge Eloy Velasco in January sent a new request for their capture and extradition.

Another 12 military personnel wanted are fugitive and one other is now in U.S. custody awaiting extradition to Spain over the killing of the priests, five of whom were Spanish.

Hundreds of people, including retired soldiers and relatives of the accused, marched through San Salvador dressed in white and waving national flags to protest what they called “judicial interference” by Spain in El Salvador’s domestic affairs.

“We want to send a letter to Eloy (Velasco) and the Spanish king so that they respect our sovereignty, our people, that they respect our institutions, our constitution, our citizens and our army,” said Juan Orlando Zepeda, son of one of the accused.

Prosecutors say Salvadoran soldiers shot the priests at their home at a university to silence their criticism of rights abuses committed by the U.S.-backed army during the 1980-1992 civil war, which claimed an estimated 75,000 lives.

Spain’s High Court ruled in 2011 that the soldiers should be tried for the murders and ordered them arrested. International policy agency Interpol said the men were wanted for extradition.

But El Salvador’s Supreme Court ruled then that Interpol had required the soldiers be located but not arrested or extradited.

The crime is one of the most notorious in the conflict that pitted leftist rebels in the Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front (FMLN) against a string of military governments.

The FMLN later became a political party and is now in power.

Writing by Anna Yukhananov; Editing by Dave Graham and Lisa Shumaker

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