Families recall 1982 massacre of 4 Dutch reporters by Salvadoran soldiers

Santa Rita, El Salvador, Mar 17 (EFE).- Relatives of the four Dutch journalists murdered in El Salvador during the internal armed conflict visited the place where the army allegedly committed the massacre four decades ago.

On March 17, 1982, a group of armed forces ambushed the four Dutch in an arid area in Santa Rita, 75 km from the capital San Salvador.

Jan Albert Hootsen, a Dutch journalist closely following the case, said 25 soldiers were at the place since 5 in the morning on that day when they ambushed the journalists.

Hootsen accompanied the national and foreign press during the tour.

“They (the soldiers) covered themselves under darkness. They prepared themselves here and were ready to shoot,” Hootsen said.

He said five Salvadorans acting as guides accompanied the journalists, and only one of them managed to flee alive.

The Dutch were traveling to a guerrilla camp in Chalatenango to film the combatants and the daily life of the rural population, the most affected during the war.

The 1993 United Nations Truth Commission Report investigated the war crimes in El Salvador.

The commission noted that Dutch journalists Koos Jacobus Andries Koster, Jan Cornelius Kuiper Jop, Hans Lodewijk ter Laag, and Johannes Jan Willemsen were killed on the orders of Colonel Mario Adalberto Reyes Mena, former commander of the Fourth Infantry Brigade.

“Commander of the Fourth Army Brigade, Colonel Mario A. Reyes Mena, and officers of the rapid-reaction Atonal Battalion deliberately ambushed four Dutch journalists traveling to Chalatenango to film the guerrillas,” the report said.

“The four journalists were killed along with four guerrilla guides. Six years later, the judge investigating the case fled the country after receiving anonymous death threats.”

The report noted that men in uniform obstructed the investigations carried out by the judiciary into the killings.

Gert Kuiper, brother of Jan Kuiper, and Sonja ter Laag, sister of Hans ter Laag, were part of the tour to the area where the journalists shot dead.

Ter Laag testified on Friday before a judge as part of a criminal proceeding against the accused soldiers.

She shared how the family suffered in the last 40 years after the murder of her brother amid a never-ending wait for justice.

Pedro Cruz, one of the representative lawyers, told EFE that the process was held under the Criminal Procedure Code of 1973 in force at the time of the crime.

At least 30 journalists died in El Salvador during the 12 years of war.

The Salvadoran war (1980-1992) between the army and the guerrillas of the Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front (FMLN) left 75,000 dead and 8,000 missing. EFE


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