El Salvador's president says military files on civil war massacre were destroyed

SAN SALVADOR (Reuters) - Salvadoran military files from the time of a 1981 massacre of 1,000 people during the country’s civil war have been mostly destroyed, said El Salvador’s president, who vowed to make the few surviving documents public in an effort to bring justice in the case.

In the incident, one of the worst tragedies of the war that pitted leftist guerrillas against the U.S.-backed Salvadoran army, soldiers executed unarmed villagers of El Mozote and surrounding hamlets in eastern El Salvador as they searched for guerrillas, according to a U.N. report.

“Most of the files... as any Salvadoran would imagine, were destroyed in these forty years. When? We don’t know, it could be that they were destroyed immediately after the massacre,” Nayib Bukele told a news conference on Thursday evening.

He added that he declassified the few existing files on the massacre and that they would be handed over to a judge and prosecutors.

Sixteen military officials were put trial in the matter in 2016, after El Salvador overturned a controversial amnesty law and allowed the case to be re-opened.

For years, El Salvador’s government denied having perpetrated the El Mozote slaughter. But in 2012 the government of then-President Mauricio Funes acknowledged the state’s role and apologized to the families of the victims.

The Central American nation’s civil war stretched from 1980 to 1992, leaving 75,000 dead and 8,000 missing.

(This story corrects to add first name of president in paragraph three)

Reporting by Nelson Renteria, Writing by Daina Beth Solomon; Editing by Marguerita Choy