April 22, 1999

Last group of civil war refugees returns to Guatemala

                  GUATEMALA CITY (AP) -- Ending a nearly 20-year exodus, the last
                  group of refugees from Guatemala's bloody civil war returned to their
                  homeland from Mexico Thursday, marking the last chapter of
                  internationally-supervised effort to resettle them.

                  As the number of war refugees continue to mount from conflicts in other
                  parts of the world, such as Kosovo, officials pointed to the return of 294
                  Guatemalans Thursday as a success story in resettlement efforts that have
                  helped a total of 41,633 people go home again.

                  Some 13,000 Guatemalan refugees remain in 60 camps in the southern
                  Mexico state of Chiapas, but they will either return individually or decide to
                  stay in Mexico under a nationalization program offered by that country.

                  The 57 refugee families welcomed with religious services and music
                  Thursday in the town square of Coatepeque, 125 miles (200 kms) west of
                  Guatemala, are the last group to be resettled under a U.N.-supervised
                  program in which the Guatemalan government offers them low-interest loans
                  to buy farmland.

                  Tens of thousands of Guatemalans fled to Mexico -- and the United States
                  -- amid the violence of the country's 36-year civil war beginning in 1981,
                  when army counter-insurgency campaigns and death squads began
                  decimating many of their villages.

                  Human rights groups charge that the army turned scores of villages into ghost
                  towns in the 1980s, killing many villagers they suspected of sympathizing
                  with leftist rebels and driving the rest away.

                  The refugees will be taken later to their new homes on a ranch in the town of
                  Columba Costa Cuca in the southern province of Quetzaltenango.

                  There they will grow coffee and traditional crops like corn and beans, and
                  will receive U.N. aid for the next nine months. The U.N. programs will
                  provide them with food, tools and health care.

                  Peace accords signed by the government and leftist rebels in December
                  1996 formally ended Guatemala's civil war, in which 200,000 people --
                  mainly civilians -- were either killed or disappeared.