Derechos | Equipo Nizkor
4 Dutch newsmen slain on a trip to film guerrillas in El Salvador
Four members of a Dutch television crew were killed Wednesday in a rural part of El Salvador where they had gone to film a guerrilla group.
The Salvadoran Army said tonight that the newsmen had died when guerrillas accompanying them opened fire on an army patrol. Reporters who went to the scene in Chalatenango Province north of the capital found bloody clothing and 30 spent M-16 shells near the spot where associates of the four men said they had been dropped off at 5 P.M. Wednesday. Residents of nearby villages reported they had heard 20 minutes of firing shortly after 5 P.M. Bodies Reported Mutilated
Confirmation of the death of the four newsmen first came from Koen Steendick, the Dutch Consul in El Salvador, and from Hendrick van den Broek, a spokesman for the Dutch Embassy in Mexico City. Mr. Steendick said he had been told by Foreign Ministry officials that the four bodies had been mutilated.
Dutch colleagues identified the bodies at a morgue here tonight. They reported that the men had been shot repeatedly at short range and that two had had their faces blown off by the gunfire. A fifth body thought to be of a European was also in the morgue, they said, but no one could identify it.
The army statement said this body had been brought to San Salvador "because it bore characteristics unlike those of a native Salvadoran and because we didn't know whether it was the body of another foreign journalist or a mercenary,"
The deaths occurred the same day that a list threatening 35 journalists with death was left at a San Salvador radio station and later circulated among the press corps here. The four Dutchmen were not among those named, and there were no indications that the two developments were linked.
The four were identified by associates as Jacobus Andries Koster, the producer; Jan Kuiper, the director; Johannes Willemsen, the cameraman, and Hans ter Laan, the soundman. The associates asked that they not be identified because of threats they had been receiving in recent days.
The threats stemmed from the arrest last Friday of Mr. Koster after a piece of paper with his name as a "contact" had been recovered from the body of a dead guerrilla in the southeastern city of Usulutan.
Mr. Koster was interrogated for five hours and released after cosigning with the commander of the Treasury Police a document saying he had no knowledge of how the dead guerrilla obtained his name and confirming that he had not been mistreated by the police during his detention.
The men received a number of telephoned death threats in subsequent days. One Dutch reporter was followed into the sauna at the Hotel Alameda where they were staying by a man who asked, "Are you Dutch?" and who then said, "You Dutch should all be killed."
Mr. Koster's associates said they had pleaded with him not to make the trip Wednesday evening. They said it had been arranged with guerrilla contacts to permit the team to film rebel encampments.
"We got so upset that we wouldn't speak to each other any more," one said. "They thought they had settled everything with the police, but I think they were naive."
According to the associates' account, the four men set out from San Salvador Wednesday afternoon to keep a 5 P.M. rendezvouz with the guerrillas near the Chalatenango town of El Paraiso. They used a friend's van so that the police would not identify them as being associates of Mr. Koster.
They met their guerrilla contact, picked him up and then were dropped off with him several miles along the road, according to the driver, who later returned to San Salvador.
The army statement tonight said "a column of subversive elements was surprised by a military patrol and an encounter of some 40 minutes followed."
"At the end the subversives left eight bodies," it said. The statement said one of the "subversives" had been the first to open fire. "The armed forces do not know the circumstances in which the four Dutch journalists happened to be with the column," it added. "In deploring the event, the armed forces would like it to be known that they continually ask national and foreign journalists not to risk visiting camps and areas where the terrorists are operating."
The associates of the four nesmen said they received a phone call Wednesday night from an American Embassy official with the first word of the incident.
Military authorities returning to army headquarters here this evening from Chalatenango were seen carrying a field camera, a magazine of film and several backpacks.
The four men arrived here three weeks ago and were working in a pool arrangement for three Dutch networks, IKON, VARA, and NCRV. Mr. Koster had been covering Latin America for 13 years and lived in Cuernavaca, Mexico. The three others were based in the Netherlands, according to the associates.
Two members of another Dutch television crew working for the VARA network were wounded by gunfire two years ago in San Salvador. They were working on a documentary, titled "Revolution or Death," that is commonly shown at Solidary With Salvador meetings in Europe, the associates said. Journalists Are Denounced
The death list that emerged Wednesday was signed by the "Gen. Maximiliano Hernandez Martinez Anti-Communist Alliance of El Salvador," a right-wing group that has taken responsibility for a number of assassinations in recent years. General Hernandez Martinez, President of El Salvador from 1932 to 1944, is noted in Salvadoran history for having in his first year in office put down a peasant uprising that resulted in the massacre of thousands of Salvadorans.
The list said the journalists named were "responsible for the international discrediting caused our armed forces and the principal accomplices of Soviet-Cuban-Sandinist Communism that wants to take over our beloved fatherland." Calling them "pseudojournalists," the document said they were "in the service of international subversion" and had "been condemned to death by patriots of our organization." It ended with the legend, "Death to traitors of democracy."
Among those named were Raymond Bonner and Alan Riding of The New York Times, Karen de Young and Christopher Dickey of The Washington Post, Shirley Christian of The Miami Herald, Juan Tamayo and John Newhagen of United Press International, Sean Kelly of the Voice of America, Robin Lloyd of NBC News, John Hoagland and Harry Mattison, freelance photographers who work mainly for American news magazines and a man who is an announcer for the rebel radio station, Venceremos. Howard Lane, the public affairs officer of the United States Embassy here, was also on the list.
All the journalists have at one time covered this area, though some have not been here for several years. Almost all the names were spelled in an incorrect manner that indicated they had been composed phonetically.
[Source: By Warren Hoge, The New York Times, San Salvador, 18Mar82]
DDHH en El Salvador
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