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El Salvador denies asylum to Venezuelan ex-officers

Source: Reuters 03 Dec 2004 16:01:15 GMT

CARACAS, Venezuela, Dec 3 (Reuters) - El Salvador on Friday denied a request for asylum from two Venezuelan former police commanders facing charges for unsolved killings during a 2002 coup against President Hugo Chavez.

After a week spent inside the Salvadoran embassy in Caracas, former city police chiefs Henry Vivas and Lazaro Forero were handed over to Venezuelan security forces who detained them.

"We reached the conclusion that political asylum was not appropriate and we decided to deny the request," El Salvador Foreign Minister Francisco Lainez told Venezuelan television in a telephone interview.

He said Venezuela, which supplies oil to El Salvador under preferential terms, had given guarantees that their lives and rights would be respected.

Vivas and Forero face homicide charges over the deaths of several people shot and killed during an April 2002 coup that deposed left-winger Chavez for 48 hours. They deny the charges.

They sought asylum in El Salvador's embassy last week because they said they feared their lives were at risk from Venezuelan security forces hunting the killers of a prominent state prosecutor who was blown up by a car bomb last month.

Their case was one of several being investigated by slain prosecutor Danilo Anderson.

Government security forces, who have shot and killed two suspects and detained three other ex-policemen in the murder inquiry, say they have no evidence linking the two ex-police chiefs to the prosecutor's murder.

Opposition leaders say Chavez, who won a referendum on his six-year-old rule in August, is using Anderson's killing to launch a crackdown against political enemies. They accuse the populist president of ruling the world's No. 5 oil exporter like a dictator.

He says U.S.-backed minority elites are bent on toppling his self-styled "revolution" to help the poor.

"Who guarantees us a fair trial? ... We don't have any confidence in justice here because everything is under the control of the government," Forero said before he was escorted from the embassy.

El Salvador's Foreign Minister Lainez said Mexico, Argentina and Costa Rica had agreed to act as guarantors of the safety of Vivas and Forero.

Chavez's government blames the two, whose officers fought a gun battle with the president's supporters on the first day of the 2002 coup, for the deaths of several people killed during a huge opposition march to the presidential palace.

The government and opposition blame each other for the shootings.

In June 2002, El Salvador granted asylum to navy Rear Adm. Carlos Molina, one of the leaders of the coup against Chavez.

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