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Remembering the lost children of El Salvador's war

The Salvadoran government recently apologized for its role in the forced disappearance of children during its 12-year war. Some say targeting children was a tactic to invoke terror on families.

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After more than 25 years of imagining how her mother and five younger brothers were killed by the Army during El Salvador’s brutal civil war, María Angelica Escobar got used to the nightmares.

But just over a year ago, the remains of Ms. Escobar’s mother and brothers were discovered in a mass grave in the community of San Cristóbal, in the hills surrounding the central Salvadoran town of Suchitoto. The exhumation began in September 2011, and slightly more than a year later, on Oct. 27, the remains of the victims were turned over to their families for burial.

“I feel happy and satisfied,” Escobar says. “I can rest now, knowing that they’re no longer abandoned.”

Five of the 18 victims in the grave – victims of a 1984 Army massacre in the community of San Cristóbal – were Escobar’s family members.

The grave where her family was found is just one of hundreds of mass graves exhumed since the signing of El Salvador’s 1992 peace accords, which brought to a close a 12-year war that left more than 75,000 people dead or disappeared, largely at the hand of the Army. But, unlike most mass graves uncovered by local and international nongovernmental organizations, this one held the remains of mainly children. It was a remnant of the conflict that has garnered renewed attention when late last month, the Salvadoran government publicly apologized for the forced disappearances and killings of hundreds of children during the civil war.  

"Per instructions of the President of the Republic, Mauricio Funes, I ask for pardon, in the name of the Salvadoran government, from the hundreds of families that were victims of the forced disappearance of boys and girls during the armed conflict," said Hugo Martínez, minister of foreign relations, in a press conference. "[Pardon] from these families that suffered infinite pain from being hit by the disappearance of their most beloved and most vulnerable ones.” Mr. Martínez said. 

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