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Protesters call soa close { April 3 2000 }

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U.S. protesters call for closing School of the Americas

April 3, 2000
Web posted at: 7:32 a.m. EDT (1132 GMT)

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- About 1,000 people demonstrated Sunday outside the White House, urging U.S. authorities to close a controversial training center for Latin American military officers.

The U.S. Army-run School of the Americas has trained more than 60,000 troops in counterinsurgency warfare over the last 50 years, focusing on combat arms, military intelligence, psychological operations and commando tactics. Critics have long accused the school of training soldiers in questionable and abusive tactics, which are then used against populations in their home countries.

Organizers of Sunday's demonstration cited recent reports released by Human Rights Watch and the U.S. State Department that linked graduates of the school to paramilitary killings in Colombia.

The Human Rights Watch Report on Colombia said graduates were involved in kidnapping, murder, massacres and the creation of paramilitary groups. More than 10,000 Colombian soldiers have trained at the school, more than any other country.

The school is located at Fort Benning, Georgia. Its alumni include former Panamanian dictator Manuel Noriega; officers close to former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet; Roberto D'Aubuisson, who was accused of leading rightist death squads in El Salvador; and 19 of the 26 Salvadoran officers accused in the killings of six Jesuit priests and two co-workers.

The rally, organized by the group SOA Watch, preceded a two-week national effort to close the school, set to start April 6. Protesters called on Congress to cut off funding to the school, which runs on an operating budget of $10 million to $20 million.

Last year, Rep. Joseph Moakley, D-Massachusetts, introduced a bill to close the school. Moakley was involved in the 1989 investigation into the killings of the priests and their associates in El Salvador.

A vote is expected in the House of Representatives later this year.

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