Journalists were harassed by gunfire from an army helicopter as they rushed a fatally wounded Dutch television cameraman to the hospital after a firefight, the reporters said.
It seemed as if soldiers in the helicopter were "playing a game" by firing ahead of and behind the journalists' car, said producer Peter Elenbaas, who was among those trying to save his co-worker, Cornel Lagrouw.The military said it regretted the deaths of Lagrouw and of two Salvadoran journalists killed in separate incidents while covering the presidential vote. It said a soldier was arrested in one of the slayings.
The deaths brought to 15 the number of foreign and Salvadoran journalists killed covering the nine-year civil war.
Lagrouw, 30, of the Dutch television church network IKON, was shot Sunday during a clash between army troops and leftist guerrillas in San Francisco Javier, a town about 70 miles east of San Salvador.
He was standing next to guerrillas when he was struck in the chest by a bullet fired from an army position as troops moved in to take back the town, said journalists with him.
"He was pale but still alive," said photographer Bill Gentile of Newsweek who, with Arturo Robles of JB Photos and free-lance newsman Scott Wallace, pulled Lagrouw out of the area and into a car to rush him to a hospital.
"I was cradling him. He was dying in my arms," Gentile said. "We're not sure when Cornel died - on the ground or in the car."
Two cars rushing Lagrouw to the hospital in Usulutan came under repeated fire from a helicopter, Gentile and Robles said.
Elenbaas told a news conference: "The moment we were out of the village, the helicopter started pursuing us. It's probable they were playing a game with us. If they had wanted to hit the car, they probably could have hit it."
Robles, who was in a jeep ahead of the car carrying Lagrouw, said, "We had signs, and we had four white flags."
Under established protocol generally respected by both army and guerrillas, reporters and photographers in El Salvador travel in vehicles marked "Press" or "TV" with white flags affixed to car doors.
Dutch Foreign Minister Hans van den Broek on Monday called Lagrouw's death an "extremely regrettable incident." However, he told reporters in Belgium that it was an apparent accident and his government was not considering diplomatic steps against El Salvador.
The dead Salvadoran journalists were identified as Roberto Navas, 30, a photographer who worked for the Reuter news agency; and Mauricio Pineda, 26, of Channel 12 television in El Salvador.
Luis Galdamez, another Reuter photographer, was with Navas on a motorcycle when the two were fired on by soldiers at a checkpoint Saturday night on the outskirts of San Salvador.
Galdamez, who was wounded, told doctors at the Rosales Hospital before emergency surgery that he and Navas were shot without warning.
Pineda was with a mobile TV unit traveling to the coastal city of La Union, 115 miles from the capital, when a soldier shot at the pickup truck, according to station spokesman William Figueroa.