|El Salvador's foreign minister said the government 'recognises the rights of victims' [AFP]
El Salvador's leftist government has asked for "forgiveness" over a civil war-era massacre in 1981 in which soldiers executed more than 1,000 civilians, nearly half of them children.
Sunday marks the 30th anniversary of the killings at the small northeastern village of El Mozote, where troops rounded up men, women and children, accused many of collaborating with leftist armed groups, and murdered them in cold blood.
It was among the worst massacres in the country's bloody 1980-1992 civil war, which still casts a shadow over the Central American nation.
"I would like to take this opportunity to reiterate on behalf of the government of El Salvador our request for forgiveness to the thousands of innocent victims, but especially the victims of the massacre at El Mozote," Hugo Martinez, the country’s foreign minister, said.
Martinez noted that Mauricio Funes, the country's first democratically-elected president since the civil war, had already apologised for other violent incidents attributed to the army, state security forces and paramilitary groups.
"This event seeks to honour the memory of hundreds of innocent people who were murdered 30 years ago here in El Mozote and in other nearby hamlets," he said.
Rights of victims
Martinez said it was important that the government adopt a position "that recognises the rights of victims and does not evade responsibility of the State".
The December 11-13, 1981 killings were committed by troops of the now-banned Atlacatl Battalion of the army. Their crimes, including torture and rape, left the international community appalled.
A truth commission created by the UN blamed a number of military officials, some of whom were killed in the civil war. UN officials were present at Saturday's ceremony in El Mozote.
Activists say they are still waiting for justice and hope their case will be taken up by the Inter-American Court of Human Rights based in Costa Rica.
The current president, whose leftist Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front [FMLN] defeated the ruling right-wing party in 2009, has sought to sweep away the demons of El Salvador's past stemming from its 12-year civil war.
The FMLN is the former coalition of Marxist armed group that battled the government during the war, during which approximately 75,000 people were killed and another 7,000 went missing.