November 30, 1998

Guatemala hands down first sentences for civil war crimes

                  GUATEMALA CITY (AP) -- In the first war-crimes convictions following
                  Guatemala's civil war, three former pro-government fighters were sentenced
                  to death Monday for their role in a 1982 massacre of Indian villagers.

                  A court in the central province of Baja Verapaz found the three men guilty of
                  executing three of the 130 civilians who died March 13, 1982, in what has
                  come to be known as the Massacre of Rio Negro.

                  An estimated 150,000 people died in Guatemala's 36-year civil war and
                  thousands more were tortured or kidnapped. Peace accords signed two
                  years ago put a formal end to the civil war. A report released earlier this
                  year by a Catholic Church human rights office blamed the army for nearly 80
                  percent of the killings.

                  The men were members of civilian defense patrols. The patrols were
                  organized by the army and collaborated closely with soldiers in
                  counter-insurgency campaigns against those suspected of supporting leftists
                  rebels fighting a guerrilla war against the government.

                  Interviewed before the verdict was handed down, human rights activists
                  applauded the trial of the three men.

                  "We are not seeking vengeance, but rather that this massacre not go
                  unpunished ... that is why we trust justice will be done," said Aura Elena
                  Farfan, a representative of the Guatemalan Association of Relatives of the
                  Detained and Disappeared.

                  The court, which revealed the conviction and sentence in the same ruling,
                  said that the three acted with other patrol members, but not with soldiers, in
                  the Rio Negro Massacre, where the victims included women and children.

                  Their sentences will automatically be appealed. Executions are carried out
                  by lethal injection in Guatemala.

                  Testimony against them included eyewitness accounts of the killings of the
                  Mayan Indian villagers by survivors.

                  Copyright 1998 The Associated Press.