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
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
government and Marxist guerrillas signed a peace accord in 1996.
Copyright 1999 Reuters.