El Salvador's Supreme Court halts investigation into murder of priests

MEXICO CITY (Reuters) - El Salvador's Supreme Court on Thursday ruled that senior figures suspected of links to the 1989 killing of six Jesuit priests, including a former president, should not be investigated, lawyers for both sides said.

The killing of the priests during the Central American country's civil war was among the most notorious episodes during the conflict in which 75,000 people were killed and 8,000 went missing.

In April 2018, a court reopened an investigation into the killings and named in court documents six military officers and a former president, Alfredo Cristiani, as subjects of the investigation.

But Arnau Baulenas, a human rights lawyer who has been representing the side of the victims in Supreme Court hearings, told Reuters the judges ruled the investigation should not go on.

"The intellectual authors of the massacre should not be investigated," Baulenas said, citing the court's decision.

Reuters was unable to immediately obtain the ruling from the Supreme Court but Lisandro Quintanilla, a lawyer representing two of the military officers suspected of involvement in the deaths confirmed the court had stopped the investigation.

Cristiani has in the past denied any involvement in the killing, as have the military officers identified in court documents. Cristiani was not available for comment on Friday.

Five of the murdered priests were Spanish and in September, a Spanish court sentenced a former El Salvador army colonel, Inocente Montano, to 133 years in prison for his role in the murder of the priests.

Montano had been detained in the United States and extradited to Spain.

Spain has also indicted 20 former Salvadoran army officers in connection with the killings, which took place when a group of soldiers from the U.S.-trained Atlacatl Battalion entered the campus of El Salvador's Central American University.

One of the slain priests was Father Ignacio Ellacuria, who was a prominent critic of the U.S.-backed right-wing government of El Salvador and the rector at the university.

Baulenas, the lawyer, works at a rights institute at the university.

(Reporting by Nelson Rentería; Writing by Drazen Jorgic; Editing by Robert Birsel)

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