Thu, Aug 05, 2004 - Page 6 News List

Six indicted for Paraguay blaze


A Paraguayan woman on Tuesday holds a photograph of a missing relative, feared to be one of the hundreds of victims in Sunday's fire that destroyed the Ycua Bolanos supermarket in Asuncion.


Six people were indicted for manslaughter after allegedly locking a crowded Asuncion store to prevent theft during a massive blaze, court sources said Tuesday, as some reports of the death toll rose as high as 464.

Juan Pio Paiva, who owns the Ycua Bolanos shopping center, his son Daniel and four security guards are formally accused of locking the doors "so no one would leave without paying," the sources said.

The charges claim Daniel Paiva ordered security personnel to shut all exits, and helped them do so, thereby preventing hundreds of clients from fleeing the building and "causing the death of more than 300 people."

Authorities on Tuesday updated the toll, saying 367 people had been killed and 409 injured in Sunday's blaze on the outskirts of the Paraguayan capital.

"Children, women and men were burned to death or asphyxiated, and hundreds more suffered severe burns," the charges said.

Public prosecutor Edgar Sanchez quoted one of the guards as telling investigators he had "heard over internal radio an order to close the exit doors."

Sanchez and fellow prosecutor Teresa Sosa asked that the six be held in preventive detention and that authorities seize their assets up to a value of US$10 million.

All six suspects were charged with manslaughter.

The prosecutors also requested that the store's manager, Humberto Casaccia, be placed under house arrest for allegedly "failing to render assistance."

Casaccia is accused of fleeing the scene rather than help those trapped inside the store during the blaze.

At one stage one of the guards shot at a firefighter who sought to break down one of the doors, according to fire brigade Commander Oscar Ojeda.

"Eventually a mass of people pushed the door, opened it and rushed out," Ojeda said.

"For a few cents, people lost their lives," said Judge Rafael Fernandez, who is working on the investigation.

Juan Pio Paiva on Monday told local TV that he did not order the doors be locked.

"I don't believe I'm the least bit to blame," he said, adding that "until now I am convinced the doors were not locked."

The shopping center consists of a supermarket as well as several restaurants.

It burned to the ground in about 30 minutes, apparently after the explosion of a propane gas tank.

Brazilian, Chilean, Colombian, Spanish and US experts joined Paraguayan investigators at the scene on Tuesday.

Argentina, Brazil, Chile and Uruguay sent planeloads of medical supplies and personnel.

Other countries, including Bolivia, Cuba, France, Germany, Mexico and the US, have offered help.

Paraguay on Sunday announced that there would be three days of national mourning.

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