MADRID/EL SALVADOR (Reuters) - Spain’s High Court sentenced a former army colonel from El Salvador on Friday to 133 years in prison for the murder of five Spanish Jesuit priests in 1989 during the Central American country’s civil war.
The judges found Inocente Orlando Montano Morales, 77, responsible for the murders of the priests’ housekeeper, her 15-year-old daughter and a local Jesuit priest as well. The court could not convict him of these crimes because his extradition to Spain did not cover these cases.
The massacre occurred while Montano Morales was deputy minister for public security. It was one of the most notorious acts of a decade-long civil war during which 75,000 people were killed and 8,000 went missing.
The judges said Montano Morales was guilty of five counts of “murder of terrorist nature”, adding that the killings were committed by the state apparatus, making them what “is commonly known as terrorism implemented by the state”.
They added that the total maximum effective prison term is 30 years.
The conviction was hailed by rights groups.
“Justice prevailed finally in El Salvador,” said Erika Guevara-Rosas, Americas Director at Amnesty International. She called the sentence “a victory for the thousands of victims of atrocities committed during the armed conflict.”
Montano Morales has been in custody since 2011 when he was arrested in the United States on immigration fraud charges. He was sent to Spain in 2017.
Conan Castro, legal secretary of the presidency in El Salvador, said on Friday that more remained to be done.
“There are other acts that still have to be judged,” he said.
The Spanish government has indicted 20 former Salvadoran army officers for the killings. One priest, Father Ignacio Ellacuria, was a prominent critic of the U.S.-backed right-wing government.
On Nov. 16, 1989, a group of soldiers from the U.S.-trained Atlacatl Battalion entered the campus of the Central American University where Ellacuria was rector.
Ellacuria had advocated a negotiated settlement to the military-led junta government’s war against the left-wing Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front (FMLN).
International revulsion at the murders of the priests helped push through such a solution.
Reporting by Nathan Allen and Andrei Khalip; Editing by Ingrid Melander/ Frances Kerry and Grant McCool
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