Paraguay’s President Mario Abdo Benítez hailed a raid, conducted on September 2 on a guerrilla camp, as a successful operation that killed two militants. But now, he and the government are under fire since the two casualties, initially labeled as guerrillas of the Paraguayan People’s Army (EPP), were revealed to actually be two young Argentinian girls, aged 11 and 12. The girls were visiting their fathers in the camp.
The EPP is a small Marxist group with only about 100 members. It is active in the northern area of the country. The EPP has had no traction in trying to recruit Paraguayan support in order to place a communist government in power. Therefore, it has resorted to recruiting from nearby Argentina. The group’s main methods of resistance are kidnappings and targeted killings.
President Benítez had traveled to the camp immediately after the raid last week to praise the operation. Paraguayan officials said the girls were guerrilla fighters in their mid-to-late teens and posted pictures of their dead bodies wearing military uniforms.
Cristian Ferreira, a forensic expert, said that the girls had been forensically tested before they were buried and that one of them was 15 and the other aged between 17 and 18. He also said that one of the girls had been shot six times and the other two. According to Mr. Ferreira, one of the victims had been wearing a “tactical vest” and both were carrying hundreds of rounds of ammunition on them.
Officials said they buried the bodies quickly, following a protocol designed to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. They also said they burned the military uniforms the girls were said to be wearing.
The two girls have now been identified as María del Carmen Villalba, 11, and Lilian Mariana Villalba, 12. According to reports from relatives, the girls traveled to Paraguay less than a year ago to spend time with their fathers.
As the official story about the raid changed and questions mounted, officials in Paraguay exhumed the two bodies last weekend and transported them from the town of Yby Yaú to the capital, Asunción, about 230 miles away.
“These were extrajudicial executions,” Daisy Irala, a lawyer for the victims’ families said. “They are crimes against humanity.”
The United Nations (U.N.) is calling for an investigation on the Paraguayan military in the killing of the two girls.
Yet, Paraguay’s ministry of foreign affairs has changed the narrative once again. It is now accusing the EPP of using the girls as shields. It also expressed “deep regret” over the girls’ death and condemned what it described as “the EPP’s despicable use” of children and teenagers as human shields.
Now, the EPP has apparently kidnapped Óscar Denis Sánchez, a former vice president, in what investigators believe may have been a retaliatory strike. Sánchez was abducted on Wednesday about six miles from where government forces raided the guerrilla camp where the two girls were killed.
Sánchez, 74, and a 21-year old employee, disappeared from his farm that is located about six miles (10km) from Yby Yaú. His family members said that the two were en route to visit an injured employee when they were taken. Sánchez’s daughters begged the kidnappers to provide him with medication to treat his diabetes and hypertension.
“We want to see our father again. We ask them to communicate with us, that they are open with [sic] us. We will listen to them, we are waiting for their communication,” María Beatriz Denis was quoted as saying.