Soldiers stole children during El Salvador's war
Published: February 22, 2013 2:02 PM
By The Associated Press MARCOS ALEMAN (Associated Press)
SAN SALVADOR, El Salvador - (AP) -- One of Gregoria Contreras' first childhood memories was the moment she last saw her parents.
Fighting between government troops and guerrillas had broken out around the 4-year-old girl's family home in the countryside of this Central American country. The soldiers took advantage of the confusion and seized Contreras and her two siblings, who were under the age of 2.
"We all fled the house and suddenly it all ended because they captured us and our parents disappeared," said Contreras, now 35 and living in neighboring Guatemala.
Contreras was just one of hundreds of children who disappeared under a variety of circumstances during El Salvador's brutal, 13-year civil war, which left some 75,000 people dead and thousands more missing. In most cases, the parents have yet to find out what happened to their children, while a few hundred of the missing have been identified after giving investigators DNA samples and other evidence.
Now, a human rights group, Probusqueda, is uncovering another macabre, and mostly unknown twist to the tragedy. In Contreras' and at least nine other cases, low-to-mid-ranking soldiers abducted children in what an international court says was a "systematic pattern of forced disappearances." Some of the soldiers raised the children as their own, while others gave them away or sold them to lucrative illegal adoption networks. In Contreras' case, an army private spirited her away, raped her and gave her his own surname.