Guatemala hands down first sentences for civil war crimes
A court in the central province of Baja Verapaz found the three men guilty
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
by lethal injection in Guatemala.
Testimony against them included eyewitness accounts of the killings of
Mayan Indian villagers by survivors.
Copyright 1998 The Associated Press.