Sat, Jan 28, 2012 - Page 4 News List

Guatemalan leader faces genocide charges

PASSING THE BUCK:Defense attorneys say Montt did not control battlefield operations during the conflict that left nearly 250,000 dead or missing and so is not legally responsible

Reuters, Guatemala City

Former Guatemalan president Efrain Rios Montt will face trial on charges of genocide and crimes against humanity as the Central American nation seeks to close its files on a brutal 36-year civil war.

A judge found sufficient evidence linking Rios Montt, who ruled -during a particularly bloody period in 1982 and 1983, to the killing of more than 1,700 indigenous people in one counterinsurgency effort.

“I believe that there is enough evidence in these charges,” said Judge Carol Flores, who agreed with prosecutors that Rios Montt, as head of the government, should -answer for brutality under his rule.

Prosecutors said Rios Montt, who ruled as commander-in-chief for 17 months, turned a blind eye as soldiers used rape, torture and arson to rid Guatemala of leftist insurgents.

Lawyers also say Rios Montt conceived a counterinsurgency plan that killed at least 1,771 unarmed members of the Ixil tribe that he said were aiding guerillas and drove another 29,000 into forced exodus.

Defense attorneys say Rios Montt, 85, did not control battlefield operations during the 1960 to 1996 conflict that left nearly a quarter of a million dead or missing and therefore cannot be held responsible.

“Each commander is responsible for making decisions in his own post,” attorney Danilo -Rodriguez said.

Ixil women clad in bright red indigenous dresses attended the hearing that ended in Rios Montt being ordered to house arrest until a preliminary hearing in March.

The right-wing party Rios Montt founded has lost relevance and the former general was turned out of the Guatemalan Congress in a general election in September last year, loosing the immunity from prosecution granted to public officials.

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