El Salvador issues arrest order for Archbishop Romero's killer

Pilgrims from El Salvador hold the portrait of saint Oscar Romero during the special audience with Pope Francis at Paul VI Hall at the Vatican, October 15, 2018. REUTERS/Tony Gentile

SAN SALVADOR (Reuters) - A Salvadoran judge on Tuesday ordered the arrest of a former military officer suspected of ordering the 1980 killing of Archbishop Oscar Romero, a Latin American human rights icon recently named a Roman Catholic saint.

The order called for the arrest of Alvaro Rafael Saravia, a 78-year-old former soldier who has been a major suspect for years. His case was dismissed in 1993 after an amnesty law banned criminal trials connected to the Central American nation’s bloody civil war.

Some 75,000 people died in the conflict that lasted from 1980 to 1992 during a military dictatorship. Romero, shot dead while celebrating Mass in a hospital chapel, is thought to have been killed by a right-wing death squad.

The murder was one of the most shocking of the long conflict between a series of U.S.-backed governments and leftist rebels in which thousands were killed by military death squads.

No one was brought to justice in Romero’s case.

It was reopened in May 2017, a year after the controversial amnesty law was overturned.

Judge Rigoberto Chicas said there is sufficient evidence to charge Saravia for participating in Romero’s killing, and ordered the police and Interpol to search for him, a court spokesman said. Saravia’s wherabouts are unknown.

Romero’s homilies had blasted the U.S.-backed military dictatorship while voicing solidarity with the poor. Pope Francis declared him a martyr who had been killed for hatred of the faith. He was made a saint in October.

Reporting by Nelson Renteria; Writing by Daina Beth Solomon; Editing by Sandra Maler