Report: Death squads revived in Honduras to target criminals

TEGUCIGALPA, Honduras (AP) — The Honduran army has revived an infamous death squad, and summary killings by police and soldiers are much more common now than in the war-torn 1980s, a human rights group charged Wednesday.
The death squads are now targeting common criminals rather than political activists, but the number of killings is rising dramatically, the independent Committee for Human Rights said.
The report comes in the final days of the four-year administration of President Roberto Reina, who had campaigned on a pledge to improve the country’s human rights situation.
The government refused to comment Wednesday on the report.
During the 1980s, when the army mounted a counterinsurgency campaign to contain leftist movements spilling over from El Salvador, Nicaragua and Nicaragua, where civil wars raged, death squads were common. In that period, 184 people were killed, the committee said.
Yet so far this decade, 701 people have been killed. The bodies of victims turn up almost every weekend in Honduras, often with their hands bound and bearing marks of torture.
The group said most of the killings are probably committed by police and soldiers. Attorney General Edmundo Orellana has admitted in the past that at least some of them are.
The Committee for Human Rights also charged that the infamous Battalion 316, a counterinsurgency brigade formed by the army in the 1980s to combat leftist political movements, has been revived.
Executions in the 1990s, however, appear to target the growing wave of common crime, rather than political activism.
The most recent victims were discovered Sunday: two teen-agers killed by bullet wounds to the back and head.
Reina, who leaves office on Jan. 27, once served as president of the Organization of American States’ Inter American Human Rights Court and pledged to clear up the country’s human rights situation.
But efforts to punish past rights abuses appear to have been hamstrung by resistance among military officers. In early 1997, the army refused to hand over 13 soldiers charged with rights violations stemming from political killings in the 1980s.
The soldiers, most of them officers, are fugitives and are being sheltered by the military, rights officials claim.