Guatemala probe raises concern for Menchu's safety
MADRID, Spain (Reuters) -- Human rights activists seeking to put former
dictators on trial for alleged genocide said Tuesday they were worried about the
safety of lead plaintiff and Nobel Peace Prize winner Rigoberta Menchu.
Menchu has often come under fire from the right wing in Guatemala for her
and sometimes controversial campaign to spotlight human rights abuses in Guatemala.
But her supporters said Menchu could be in even more danger now that a
court Monday agreed to her request for an investigation into human rights abuses
allegedly committed by the Central American nation's former military leaders.
"They (the Guatemalan military) have said that treason to your country
is paid for with
your life, and if these threats come from a military that has committed genocide, you
have to take them seriously," Gustavo Meono, president of the Rigoberta Menchu
Foundation, told a news conference in Madrid.
"It would be dangerous and difficult to continue the process in Guatemala,"
He did not discuss whether Menchu, a Maya Indian who won the Nobel in 1992,
would seek temporary exile.
Menchu's case, lodged last December, accuses three former coup leaders
and five of
their aides of genocide, torture and state terrorism as part of a counterinsurgency
campaign against Marxist guerrillas.
About 200,000 people -- mostly civilians -- died in a 36-year civil war
in which Indian
villages were literally wiped off the map. The war ended with a peace accord in
Spanish lawyers said Tuesday they were confident that the accused former
leaders -- including Efrain Rios Montt, now president of Guatemala's congress --
would be tried in Spain.
If the accused "don't turn up to defend themselves voluntarily, we will
be obliged to
seek international arrest warrants," prosecution lawyer Carlos Vila told a news
conference in Madrid.
"We could then reproduce the Pinochet case," said Vila, referring to former
dictator Augusto Pinochet, who was arrested in London in October 1998 on a Spanish
extradition request to try him on torture charges.
After a medical examination, authorities declared the aging general mentally
trial and allowed him to return to Chile earlier this month.
Copyright 2000 Reuters.