September 20, 1999
Presidential front-runner vows to end army impunity in Guatemala

                  GUATEMALA CITY (Reuters) -- Guatemala's leading presidential
                  candidate Monday accused top military officers of hiding behind a wall
                  of impunity for crimes committed during the country's 36-year civil war
                  and vowed to end the practice.

                  "(Those who committed the massacres) now are generals and
                  nobody dares to touch them," Alfonso Portillo, candidate for the opposition
                  party Guatemalan Republican Front (FRG), told reporters. A Guatemalan
                  truth commission last February accused the army of acts of genocide when it
                  carried out 626 massacres against Indian peasants during the civil war that
                  claimed some 200,000 lives in this impoverished nation of 11 million.

                  Portillo, who tops opinion polls ahead of Guatemala's November. 7 election,
                  said that if he became president he would not block efforts from human
                  rights groups to prosecute military officers for atrocities.

                  That pledge, Portillo added, includes ex-military dictator Gen. Efrain Rios
                  Montt, the FRG's president and Portillo's political mentor. Rights and war
                  victims groups have accused Rios Montt, who ruled Guatemala from 1982
                  to 1983 after leading a coup, of widespread violations during the war. Rios
                  Montt is running for a seat in Congress.

                  "If anybody has evidence (of abuses) committed by the general (Rios
                  Montt), they should turn them over to a court," Portillo said. "I would not
                  oppose a trial."

                  Portillo has defended Rios Montt's innocence, saying lower-ranking officers
                  were to blame for the atrocities.

                  Guatemala's military has played a determining role throughout the country's
                  history and ruled, either directly or indirectly, for 32 years beginning in 1954.
                  While Guatemala officially returned to democratic rule in 1986, the military
                  continues to wield heavy influence.

                  Portillo, who stunned the country after acknowledging two weeks ago that
                  he shot to death two men in 1982 in Mexico, leads the latest poll with 33.3
                  percent support, followed by former Guatemala City Mayor Oscar Berger,
                  of the PAN, who has 28.9 percent.

                  November's vote marks the first presidential election in Guatemala since the
                  government and Marxist guerrillas signed a peace accord in 1996.

                     Copyright 1999 Reuters.