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Respect for human rights in the war-ravaged nation has deteriorated to its lowest level since death squads killed thousands in the early 1980s, a U.S. monitoring organization reported.

Americas Watch said in a report issued Thursday that the deterioration underscores "the failure of U.S. human rights policy in El Salvador throughout the decade."Washington has provided $3.8 billion in aid to El Salvador since 1980, but several U.S. congressmen have expressed reluctance to continue the funding.

The report contends there has been an increase in torture by security forces, escalation of death-squad activity, assassination of civilian officials by leftist rebels, indiscriminate use of homemade guerrilla mortars and several instances of massacres by government troops.

The November offensive by fighters of the Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front, of FMLN, signaled the worsening in human rights conditions, the report said.

"The military crisis exacerbated tensions within the military and thrust extremist elements to the fore. The rhetoric of high officials reflected the charged intensity of the moment and spurred some units to engage in lawless actions. Targeted killings by both the Armed Forces and the FMLN increased," it said.

The report cites the Nov. 16 murder by army troops of six Jesuit educators, their housekeeper and her daughter at Central American University as cause "to wonder at how little things have actually changed in El Salvador."

A colonel, three lieutenants and four soldiers have been arrested and charged in the Jesuit massacre.


(Additional information)

Demos want aid trimmed

Sentiment is growing among congressional Democrats to cut aid to El Salvador.

Rep. David Obey, D-Wis., chairman of the House Appropriations subcommittee on foreign operations, has become the latest lawmaker to complain that millions of dollars have done little to end the civil war in El Salvador or improve the country's human rights record.

After 10 years and $3.8 billion, "In many ways we are pretty much at ground zero," Obey said Thursday. "I don't want to be in the perpetual motion of throwing money down a rat hole."

Obey said he sees little improvement in the country where between 40,000 and 50,000 people have been killed in the past decade. "I personally don't feel I can vote for Salvador money," he said.

Sens. Christopher Dodd, D-Conn., and John Kerry, D-Mass., have introduced bills that would place new conditions on aid.