President Mauricio Funes formally apologized on Monday for the Salvadoran army’s 1981 slaughter of nearly 1,000 people in and around the town of El Mozote.
“For this massacre, for the aberrant violations of human rights and for the abuses perpetrated ... I ask forgiveness from the victims’ families in the name of the Salvadoran state,” he said at a ceremony in El Mozote, some 200 kilometers (120 miles) northeast of the capital.
The center-left president visited the town as part of observances of the 20th anniversary of the peace accords that ended El Salvador’s 1980-1992 civil war.
“I ask forgiveness from the Salvadoran people, who were victims of this kind of atrocious violence,” Funes said with tears in his eyes.
Officers and men of the Atlacatl Rapid Reaction Infantry Battalion killed more than 900 people, most of them minors, in the El Mozote area during the period of Dec. 10-13, 1981.
“Countless human rights violations were committed here, innocents were tortured” and many of the victims endured sexual assault prior to their deaths, the president said.
The Salvadoran government just released a list of the 936 people slain, Funes noted, describing himself as the first president to “acknowledge the truth of the events, just as they happened.”
“I come on this historic morning to assume the responsibly that my predecessors, regrettably, did not want or did not stir themselves to assume,” he told the crowd in El Mozote.
Funes is the country’s first chief executive since 1989 not to come from the right-wing ARENA party.
“I am convinced that the best way to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the peace accords is advancing in the recognition of the truth,” he said.
The agreements ending the civil war were signed on Jan. 16, 1992, by the ARENA government of President Alfredo Cristiani and the FMLN guerrillas, later to become the political party now led by Funes.
Some 75,000 people died in the civil war, 12,000 were disabled and a total of 8,000 people disappeared, according to human rights groups.