February 10, 2000
Guatemala re-arrests priest in bishop's murder

                   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 his
                   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 El
                   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.