February 12, 1999
Guatemalan Nobel laureate says she used others' testimony in book

                  NEW YORK (AP) -- A Nobel laureate has conceded that she used
                  the testimony of other victims to construct her own story of
                  Guatemala's civil war, but defended the book as a testimonial that
                  accurately depicts the suffering of her people.

                  "I was a survivor, alone in the world, who had to convince the world to look
                  at the atrocities committed in my homeland," Rigoberta Menchu said at a
                  news conference Thursday.

                  She asked her New York audience to instead focus attention on the need to
                  investigate and prosecute the massacres, kidnappings and widespread
                  torture during Guatemala's 36-year civil war.

                  Menchu became a powerful human rights advocate after the 1983
                  publication of "I, Rigoberta Menchu," a wrenching story of an Indian child
                  whose family was caught in the war that killed an estimated 100,000 people
                  and left another 40,000 missing and presumed dead.

                  She won the 1992 Nobel Peace Prize, which was hailed as recognition of
                  the struggle for indigenous rights 500 years after the Spanish conquest of the

                  "The book that is being questioned is a testimonial that mixes my personal
                  testimony and the testimony of what happened in Guatemala," she said. "The
                  book that is being questioned is not my biography."

                  'A symbol for a lot of excluded people'

                  Menchu disputed the research of U.S. anthropologist David Stoll, who
                  challenged claims that she had no formal education, that she watched a
                  brother being burned to death by Guatemalan soldiers, and that a brother,
                  Nicolas, had died of malnutrition.

                  Menchu said she worked as a maid at a Roman Catholic boarding school
                  but was not a regular student. She said she omitted mentioning the nuns who
                  gave her literacy classes to avoid making them targets of retribution during
                  the war.

                  The indigenous activist said an investigation being done by her aides has
                  located the death certificate of the brother, whom she originally said was
                  burned to death. Survivors have told her he was shot to death by
                  Guatemalan army troops.

                  Menchu also said her parents had two boys named Nicolas -- a common
                  practice among Guatemala's Maya majority -- and that one of them had
                  died. She referred requests for more information to her Guatemala
                  City-based foundation.

                  The U.S. National Council of Churches sponsored Menchu's visit to New
                  York to give her the chance to answer criticism.

                  "We feel that Rigoberta is a symbol for a lot of excluded people in Latin
                  America and around the world," said Rev. Oscar Bolioli, director of the
                  group's Latin America office. "We feel that this campaign to destroy her
                  name is unjust."