March 31, 2000

Spanish prosecutors oppose Guatemalan charges urged by Nobel laureate

                  MADRID, Spain (Reuters) -- Spanish state prosecutors asked a High Court judge
                  on Thursday to drop his investigation into genocide charges against three former
                  Guatemalan dictators lodged by Nobel Peace Prize winner Rigoberta Menchu.

                  The prosecutors said Spain had no jurisdiction to probe the cases, including a
                  military assault on Spain's embassy in Guatemala in 1980 in which 39 Spaniards

                  Similar arguments by the prosecutors have failed to halt other attempts by judges
                  to probe alleged atrocities committed abroad. The High Court, for example,
                  upheld a judge's right to try former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet in Madrid
                  although Pinochet eventually escaped prosecution.

                  The latest case began on Monday when a Spanish judge agreed to a request from
                  Menchu, a Guatemalan indigenous leader, to investigate three former Guatemalan
                  dictators and five aides on allegations stemming from the Central American
                  country's civil war.

                  Menchu turned to the court in Madrid because of its record of pursuing human
                  right cases. Judge Baltasar Garzon, who secured Pinochet's arrest in 1998, has
                  contended Spanish law allows prosecution of genocide no matter where it took

                  A fellow judge, Guillermo Ruiz Polanco, is handling the Guatemalan case.

                  Of the three men targeted in the case, human rights advocates say the 1982-1983
                  rule of former Gen. Efrain Rios Montt, 73, currently president of Congress, was
                  particularly cruel.

                  The other two men who could face charges are Gen. Oscar Humberto Mejia
                  Victores (1983-1986) and Gen. Fernando Romeo Lucas Garcia (1978-1982).

                  Days after Menchu took her case to Madrid in December, a Guatemalan lawyer
                  who has represented the military in the past filed a suit against her charging her
                  with treason. On Thursday he said he would seek her detention in Guatemala.

                  "I will present forceful arguments that she has committed treason against the
                  fatherland, for which she should be detained," Julio Cintron told Guatemalan
                  Radio Sonora on Thursday.

                  Claudia Samayoa, an aide to Menchu, called Cintron a puppet of the military. "He
                  says he is acting on his own, but in his words you note the inclinations of
                  military, radical sectors," Samayoa said.

                  Judge Ruiz Polanco is investigating a host of charges including genocide against
                  Maya Indians and leftist dissidents during a 36-year civil war that killed 200,000
                  people, mostly civilians. A 1996 peace pact formally ended hostilities.

                  But prosecutors said on Thursday that there was insufficient proof for the
                  charges, that they interfered with Guatemala's peace process and fell outside
                  Spanish jurisdiction.

                  The embassy attack came close to meeting the threshold for Spanish jurisdiction,
                  but the 1961 Vienna Convention preserved that authority for Guatemala, the
                  prosecutors said. They noted some military personnel were tried and convicted
                  for the raid.

                  The case against the Guatemalans was modelled on the nearly successful attempt
                  by Judge Garzon to secure Pinochet's extradition from Britain for trial for torture
                  during his regime.

                  Pinochet was allowed to return to Chile in early March after British authorities
                  decided he was mentally unfit to face trial.

                  Prosecutors seeking to block the charges against the former Guatemalan
                  dictators had also sought to block the Pinochet case but were repeatedly
                  overruled by the High Court.

                  The court upheld another bid to bring former Argentine generals to trial for
                  human rights abuses committed during a 1976-1983 military dictatorship in the
                  face of further protests from prosecutors. That case has stalled because
                  Argentine authorities have refused to cooperate.