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US Charges Salvadoran Ex-Defense Minister With Immigration Fraud

U.S. authorities have charged a former defense minister for El Salvador with two counts of immigration fraud.

If convicted, General Jose Guillermo Garcia could face 15 years in prison on charges of using a Salvadoran passport he allegedly obtained illegally, and for lying to U.S. immigration authorities.

The former defense minister, who lives in the U.S. state of Florida, is expected to surrender once he hires a lawyer.

Garcia was one of two Salvadoran generals ordered by a U.S. court to pay $54.6 million in damages to three Salvadoran civilians in a torture case. The plaintiffs in the 2002 case said they fled their homeland after being brutalized by Salvadoran troops during their country's civil war in the early 1980s.

One of the torture survivors who testified in that case, Neris Gonzalez, welcomed the latest charges against Garcia.

She said the charges handed down Monday do not match the severity of the atrocities Garcia presided over in El Salvador. But, she called the indictment a "concrete step forward toward accountability."

El Salvador's civil war spanned more than 12 years and involved the military government as well as leftist and right-wing guerrillas. The conflict ended in 1992 when the government and guerrillas signed peace accords. About 75,000 people died in the war.

Some information for this report was provided by AP and Reuters.