February 5, 2001

Nobel laureate says Guatemalan peace elusive

                  GUATEMALA CITY, Guatemala (AP) -- On the 21st anniversary of a fire that
                  burned her father alive and started the most brutal stretch of one of the world's
                  bloodiest civil wars, Nobel Peace Prize winner Rigoberta Menchu says the war's
                  200,000 victims died for nothing.

                  On January 31, 1980, Menchu's father and 36 other peasants were burned alive
                  as they occupied the Spanish embassy.

                  Menchu said her homeland is no better off today even though peace accords
                  ended the fighting four years ago and a genocide complaint she filed in Spain in
                  connection with the fire has much of Guatemala's ex-military brass afraid to
                  leave this country.

                  "To this day we have yet to recover his body," Menchu said, speaking of her
                  father in an interview with The Associated Press. "This case has so much
                  importance to Guatemala and the world, but it also shows the real human
                  suffering of the families of all the war's victims."

                  "Our peace, our democratic model was kidnapped on its way to the people who
                  were so desperately awaiting its arrival," said Menchu, wearing a traditional
                  Mayan blouse of green and white lace. "The peace process is dead."

                  In January 1980, 27 K'iche' Indians arrived in the Guatemalan capital to present a
                  criminal complaint against soldiers engaging in a scorched-earth campaign near
                  their village of Chajul, in the mostly Indian state of Quiche.

                  Prosecutors ignored the contingent and security forces stopped an attempt to
                  enter Congress to talk to lawmakers. The protesters decided an armed takeover
                  of an embassy was the only way to get someone to listen.

                  Armed with machetes and homemade explosives, the peasants invaded the
                  Spanish embassy -- partly because Ambassador Maximo Cajal had traveled to
                  Quiche and had proved sympathetic to the plight of locals there in the past.

                  In the hours after the takeover, Cajal reported that those occupying the embassy
                  had put away their weapons and wanted to negotiate a peaceful end. But
                  negotiations failed and police soon stormed the premises.

                  The protesters retreated into Cajal's office, which was surrounded by authorities.
                  Minutes later, fire erupted, burning alive the activists who were trapped inside
                  after police blocked the only exit. Whether the officers or protesters started the
                  fire remains a mystery.

                  The fire killed 36 peasants and embassy employees and became a centerpiece of
                  Menchu's criminal complaint charging seven former military and civilian leaders
                  -- three of whom are former heads of state -- with genocide and state-sanctioned

                  In December 1999, after the court's indictment of ex-Chilean dictator Augusto
                  Pinochet, Menchu presented her case before Spain's National Court.

                  The court refused to hear the case until Guatemalan courts try it first.

                  Menchu plans to argue that Guatemala's war-torn legal system is too weak to try
                  her case, pointing out a constant stream of death threats against those who
                  attempt to prosecute.

                  Meanwhile, echoes of the war continue to haunt Guatemala. Roman Catholic
                  Bishop Juan Gerardi was bludgeoned to death in 1998 after delivering a report
                  implicating Guatemala's military in more than 90 percent of the civil war's
                  killings. Last week, parents of hundreds of children who disappeared during the
                  war demanded an investigation .

                  Menchu said she continues to receive death threats almost weekly.

                  "We genuinely expected many sectors of society to change their exploitive and
                  violent ways," said Menchu. "The military, the government, the political parties
                  and all of those in power in Guatemala let down this nation and a lot of friendly
                  nations who were watching our peace process closely."

                  Copyright 2001 The Associated Press.