San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Guatemalans Fear Return of Death Squads

GUATEMALA CITY (EFE) –Pointing to the more than 100 murdersreported in Guatemala since June 1, thecountry’s human rights ombudsmandecried a resurgence of the death squadsthat were active in the Central Americannation’s 1960-1996 civil war.Sergio Morales told reporters lastweek that the recent wave of killings – 83in June and at least 36 in the first ninedays of this month – may be the result of“social cleansing” conducted by clandestinearmed groups.He likened the activity to that of thecivil-war-era death squads, which kidnappedand killed political opponents,leaders of social organizations and membersof guerrilla groups and operated withcomplete impunity, often with the supportof security forces.Twelve people were killed from lateJuly 8 through July 9 alone.Three other slayings took place July 7in a suburb on the west side of GuatemalaCity. There, the bodies of two men and awomen seven months pregnant were found.One of the men showed signs of havingbeen tortured, the other had been shot 15times in different parts of the body, and thewoman’s throat had been slit, a policereport said.Guatemalan Interior Minister CarlosVielman said he is sure the wave of violenceis the work of organized crime, thedrug trade and youth gangs that are“purging” their membership or vying forterritory.Vielman ruled out the possibility thatsecurity forces are involved and notedpolice units have been assigned to investigatethe crimes.Last week a group of armed men held asurprise meeting at a rural Indian communityin western Guatemala and threatened to“exterminate” criminals (NT, July 8).

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