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Ex-dictator Ríos Montt to face genocide charges for 1980s abuses

GUATEMALA CITY – A Guatemalan judge ruled Thursday that there was sufficient evidence to try Efraín Ríos Montt on charges of genocide for abuses committed during the ex-general’s 1982-1983 military dictatorship.

Judge Patricia Flores said that the information presented by the prosecution showed that Ríos Montt, 85, should answer to charges of orchestrating the destruction of native Maya villages during the country’s civil war with leftist guerrillas.

Efraín Ríos Montt 1

Human rights organizations have long called for former Guatemalan dictator Efraín Ríos Montt, 85, to be prosecuted for genocide. Several massacres occurred during his rule from 1982-1983.

Ríos Montt, known for his “scorched earth” campaign against Guatemala’s leftist rebels, will have to answer charges that his regime was responsible for the massacre of tens of thousands of people.

Flores set bail at $64,000 and ordered Ríos Montt to be placed under house arrest. She said the former general is not a flight risk.

Thursday’s hearing was to determine whether Ríos Montt should be formally charged with alleged atrocities that occurred during his regime, prosecutors said.

The hearing is the first since Ríos Montt lost the congressional immunity that for years had shielded him from prosecution for human rights crimes.

After the judge’s ruling, the atmosphere outside the courthouse took on a celebratory tone. Family members of massacre victims, human rights activists and other Guatemalans cheered and set off fireworks. Social media buzzed with posts about the historic ruling.

“‘Sa sa linch’ool laa’in,’ says a Q’eqchi supporter outside the #RiosMontt court hearing. ‘My heart is very, very happy,’” the Network in Solidarity with the People of Guatemala tweeted.

Guatemala’s truth commission, which has been tasked with investigating the bloodletting, estimates that there have been some 200,000 casualties from the country’s 36-year civil war that ended in 1996. Some of the worst atrocities are said to have taken place during Ríos Montt’s rule.

The U.N.-backed group – the Historical Clarification Commission – found that the government was guilty of a deliberate campaign of genocide against the mostly poor, indigenous massacre victims, many of whom were caught in the crossfire as the government battled leftist rebels.

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