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Justice, guerrilla style, appears to get tougher

When it comes to meting out justice on the guerrilla side, matters appear recently to have taken a sharp turn for the worse. An American military adviser, Capt. Michael Bennett, and medics working with him have evidence that following a battle 15 miles east of San Salvador on May 24, the Popular Liberation Forces (FPL) executed more than 30 unarmed soldiers after those soldiers had surrendered to the guerrillas.

The reported massacre followed by two weeks another incident in the town of Cinquera, 20 miles north of San Salvador, where survivors of yet another battle told reporters that FPL guerrillas executed more than a dozen men in the town.

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American officials say that the two incidents appear to mark a change in tactics by the guerrillas, who, in many cases in the past took prisoners during fighting and later released them for propaganda purposes. It was not clear whether the apparent harder line toward prisoners taken by the Marxist-led FPL would be followed by the four other guerrilla groups that are allied with that organization. Guerrilla leaders have publicly denied assassinating prisoners and declared that a policy of leniency would continue.

On the government side, the usual practice in battle over the years has been to take no prisoners at all. Salvadorean prisons hold hundreds of political prisoners arrested by security forces, but they contain few, if any, prisoners taken in combat. American officials say that Defense Minister Vides Casanova is determined to reform past practices. But until recently at least, Salvadorean guerrillas could hardly be certain they would be well treated if they surrendered.

Next: Christian Democrats criticize death squads and the judicial system.

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