Argentina and the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) have called on Paraguay to explain the circumstances behind the death of two 11-year-old girls during an operation by its security forces.
The two girls, named by local outlets as Aurora and Liliana, were killed on Wednesday during a confrontation in the country's north between police and military officers and a group of rebel guerrillas known as the Paraguayan People's Army (Ejército del Pueblo Paraguayo, or EPP).
It is unclear exactly how the two girls – who had documentation stating they were both Argentine – died in the attack on the communist group. Shortly after incident, Paraguayan President Mario Abdo Benítez condemned the use of minors recruited by the EPP and stressed that the two minors had been "exposed in a cowardly and irresponsible manner."
Argentina reacted strongly to the news. In a statement issued Friday, the Foreign Ministry in Buenos Aires demanded "urgent clarification and identification of those responsible for the death of two 11-year-old Argentines."
The IACHR, based in Washington, urged Paraguay via its Twitter account to “investigate the circumstances of the death of adolescents” and to increase efforts in the “prevention of forced recruitment of children and adolescents by armed groups in the country."
Officials in Asunción, however, cast doubt over the age of the two victims and whether they were born in Argentina.
In its own statement, Paraguay’s Foreign Ministry expressed surprise over the strength of President Alberto Fernández's response and expressed “its full willingness to keep maintain channels of cooperation open with the Argentine authorities in order to share information.”
Asunción said there was “evidence that they were born in Paraguayan territory, and to a Paraguayan mother and father." Officials were still still investigating the issue, the governent added.
The EPP, which reportedly has links to Colombian guerrillas and is said to be active in marijuana-growing regions in the north, has been linked to a string of kidnappings and attacks in Paraguay over the past decade. Authorities say the group has been responsible for the deaths of at least 21 soldiers, 13 police officers and 28 civilians since 2008.
The operation in which the two victims were killed took place on Wednesday, close to the border of the regions of Concepción and Amambay, in Paraguay’s north. According to reports, police and military officers attacked the rebel group’s main camp,
Initially, the Paraguayan government said in a statement that a confrontation with EPP members had left two “rebels” dead. On Friday, however, it said that those killed were teenage women. No age or nationality was given.
Argentina’s statement came in the wake of a request from Paraguay, asking it to consult the country’s national registry database. No biometric or fingerprint data for the individuals was found, though government officials said records indicated “the deceased are two minors of Argentine nationality, born on October 29, 2008 and on February 5, 2009, therefore both eleven years old.”
Paraguay, which vowed to work with President Alberto Fernández's government to solve the mystery, doubts that information.
Its Foreign Ministry said it would "carry out the necessary DNA tests to establish their links to the people who registered them."
Federico González, an advisor to the Paraguayan Presidency, told reporters that a forensic report had found the deceased were from the country and older than their alleged age.
“The information we have is that these people were born in Paraguay and later transferred to Argentina, where they obtained these [identity] documents,” he said, before criticising their parents for “sending their children into battle with the security forces.”
González said the EPP camp raided by the security forces had been occupied by 14 people, most of whom were now on the run in an area called Yby Yaú, about 370 kilometres north of capital Asunción.
Paraguay’s opposition and human rights organisations criticised the government for the deaths.
“Instead of offering forensic data and documented evidence, the government of Mario Abdo Benítez rushed to bury the bodies of these girls before they had even been identified,” the country’s main opposition parties said in a statement cited by Reuters.