Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Salvadorans welcome troops returning home from Iraq

COMALAPA MILITARY BASE, El Salvador: El Salvador welcomed home a contingent of soldiers returning from Iraq, three weeks after their replacements began arriving in Iraq.

The first group of 290 returning soldiers was greeted Monday at this air base just south of San Salvador, the capital, by Defense Minister Gen. Otto Romero, who told them "you have may finished six difficult months in Iraq ... but the work has been noble."

Romero also mourned the loss of Capt. Jose Soto Ochoa, who was killed on Oct. 20 when his convoy hit an explosive device in Iraq's Wasit province. He was the fifth Salvadoran soldier to die in Iraq; about 20 others have been injured in attacks by insurgents.

"The blood shed by Capt. Soto and the other soldiers who have fallen in our contingents makes us understand as soldiers the importance of the armed forces' mission." Romero said.

The other 89 soldiers in the contingent will return Tuesday. Their replacement began arriving in Iraq in late January.

El Salvador is the only Latin American country with troops to Iraq, and there is significant public opposition to that policy here.

Salvadoran soldiers have carried out mostly peacekeeping and humanitarian work including rebuilding schools in Iraq, mainly in the southern Iraqi city of Kut.

The first Salvadoran troops were sent in August 2003, and El Salvador's congress has already authorized President Tony Saca to send another six-month contingent in August.



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