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Church, rights groups protest US training of Salvador's police

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The resumed training of El Salvador's police forces by United States military advisers has brought protests from the Roman Catholic Church and human rights groups here. These groups oppose US training because the Salvadorean police have been traditionally implicated in human rights abuses. They say that although the incidence of killings and torture has declined since a peak five years ago, the forces still commit human rights violations.

US and Salvadorean military officials admit that human rights violations continue in the security forces, but they say that the overall human rights situation has greatly improved and that US training will further contribute to that trend of improvement. Military officials warn that the growing threat of urban terrorism requires US antiterrorist training.

Human rights groups -- Americas Watch and Amnesty International -- as well as a human rights report issued by the Organization of American States say that the terrorist threat has been exaggerated and that, although the police forces have improved their record of human rights abuses, the continuing abuses do not merit the reward of US training.

``It's a mistake to think that training will improve the human rights record of police forces,'' says Aryeh Neier, co-chairman of Americas Watch.

One US military source concedes, ``I'm not here to say that there is no torture that has gone on here recently, but if you compare the situation last fall to the situation two years ago when we were trying to figure out where the heads were for the bodies that were being found around town. Now we're talking about complaints of sleep deprivation.''

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