GUATEMALA CITY, Guatemala (Reuters) -- Guatemalan police on
Wednesday re-arrested a Roman Catholic priest accused of taking part in the 1998
bludgeoning death of a prominent bishop and human rights crusader.
Father Mario Orantes -- who was arrested in July 1998 and released
months later for lack of evidence -- was taken into custody in a Guatemala
City hospital shortly after returning to the country from a visit to the United
States, police said.
Prosecutors last month issued their second arrest warrant for Orantes for
alleged role in the April 1998 killing of Bishop Juan Jose Gerardi. The
bishop was killed two days after he released a landmark report blaming
Guatemala's army for atrocities during a 36-year civil war that ended in
Orantes, who had been staying at a Houston clinic at the time the warrant
was issued, was arrested soon after checking into a Guatemala City hospital,
said Gerson Lopez, a police spokesman.
"He is allowed to stay at the hospital but he is under police guard," Lopez
Human rights groups blame army
In a major breakthrough, prosecutors last month arrested three military
officers in connection with the Gerardi murder. In the past, prosecutors
linked the killing to a ring of church robbers and to a homosexual love
affair between clergymen.
In the circus-like atmosphere surrounding the case, Orantes' dog, Baloo,
was detained by police and Gerardi's body was exhumed to be examined
for dog bites. Baloo was released and later died.
The new arrests followed a pledge by new President Alfonso Portillo to
investigate state security forces' alleged role in the bishop's murder. Human
rights groups have persistently pinned blame on the army, saying it indicated
trouble for the peace accords that ended the civil war.
Prosecutors have not yet made public what they believe is the link between
the military suspects and the priest.
Orantes' lawyer says client 'very, very sick'
Orantes' lawyer, Jose Toledo, said the priest is innocent. He said Orantes
decided to return to Guatemala to face the new charges, though the case has
aggravated his chronic migraines.
"He is very, very sick but willing to prove his innocence," Toledo told
Orantes took pains to keep his arrival a secret. He flew into neighboring
Salvador and then drove to Guatemala to avoid the hordes of reporters and
police who have staked out the Guatemala City airport for more than a
Prosecutors are also holding Margarita Lopez, an elderly woman who
worked as a cook in Gerardi's parish and who was also arrested in 1998
and later released for lack of evidence.
Copyright 2000 Reuters.