The United Nations has called for an investigation after two girls were shot dead in a raid by Paraguayan security forces on a rebel camp.
Neighbouring Argentina has identified the two victims as Argentine nationals and confirmed they were 11 years old.
The Paraguayan government had originally said they were teenage members of the Paraguayan People’s Army (EPP) rebel group.
The EPP is a small group mainly active in the north of Paraguay.
Paraguay’s ministry of foreign affairs expressed “deep regret” over the deaths of the girls. It also condemned what it described as “the EPP’s despicable use” of children and teenagers as human shields.
The two girls died during a joint raid on a rebel camp carried out by the Paraguayan police and military on Wednesday in Yby Yaú, about 370km (230 miles) north of the capital Asunción.
The security forces buried the girls’ bodies that same day, citing the coronavirus pandemic as the reason for the swift burial. Their clothes were also burned by the security forces.
On Wednesday, Paraguayan President Mario Abdó had described the raid on the rebel camp as “a successful operation”.
“It was successful in that some members of the EPP were brought down,” the president said, implying that the two girls – who were the only fatalities – were rebels.
What did Paraguayan officials say?
A forensic expert from the prosecutor’s office, Cristian Ferreira, said during a news conference on Thursday that those killed were female and that forensic tests carried out before they had been buried suggested that one of the girls was 15 and the other was aged between 17 and 18.
He also said that one of the girls had been hit by six shots and the other by two. According to Mr Ferreira, one of the victims had been wearing a “tactical vest” and both had hundreds of rounds of ammunition on them.
He added that fingerprints had been taken but no matches had been found in their database.
Security officials said a large number of weapons, explosives and $16,000 (£12,000) in cash had been found in the rebel camp as well as books about Russian revolutionary Vladimir Lenin and German philosopher Karl Marx, and a DVD about Colombian drug lord Pablo Escobar.
What has emerged since?
A group of lawyers that represents political prisoners in Argentina said on Friday that the two girls were Argentine citizens who were in the camp to visit family members who belong to the EPP. The lawyers’ group also said that the girls were only 11 years old.
Argentina later confirmed the victims’ ages and said that they were Argentine citizens.
Following Argentina’s interventions, Paraguay ordered the exhumation of the girls’ bodies and fresh forensic tests confirmed they were 11.
Federico Delfino from the Paraguayan prosecutor’s office said the girls had crossed into Paraguay from Argentina in November.
What has the reaction been?
The incident has driven a wedge between Paraguay and Argentina, which has demanded an explanation as to how the two girls came to be killed.
Opposition groups within Paraguay have also criticised President Abdó for initially describing the raid as “a success”.
On Sunday, the regional office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights urged the Paraguayan government to investigate the deaths of the girls “impartially and without delay”.
What is the Paraguayan People’s Army?
The EPP is a small Marxist rebel group which has carried out a string of kidnappings and killings in Paraguay.
One of the group’s main sources of income is the smuggling of marijuana and ransoms paid for those it has kidnapped.
Over the past years, the rebels have displaced scores of Mennonite settlers from an area they seek to control.