San José, Costa Rica, since 1956
Guatemala

Guatemala tries 11 ex-soldiers over wartime massacres

GUATEMALA CITY – A Guatemalan judge opened a trial Monday of 11 retired soldiers accused of taking part in massacres of indigenous civilians during the country’s bloody 1960-1996 civil war, justice officials said.

The decision followed days of the judge, Claudette Domínguez, hearing arguments and weighing evidence for a trial. That included DNA evidence from 558 human remains found on the grounds of a former army base in the north.

The indicted were among 18 former Guatemalan soldiers arrested on Jan. 6. The judge exonerated three of the 18 from the trial, saying evidence against them “lacked merit” and ordering them released.

The other four under arrest are suspected of a separate war-era crime: that of the disappearance of a boy in the capital, Guatemala City. The merits of that case are yet to be decided.

Among those going on trial is Benedicto Lucas García, the armed forces chief during the 1978-1982 presidency of his brother Fernando Romeo Lucas García, who ruled over the darkest years of the conflict. Lucas has proclaimed his innocence, and expressed disappointment with the judge’s decision to put him in the dock.

“I was never in the area” where the massacres occurred, he said.

Another of the accused, Raúl Dehesa Oliva, argued that “just because people were commanders or sub-commanders” they should not be put on trial for crimes committed by troops.

“We are here because we defended the Guatemalan people,” he said.

Veterans of the civil war stress they were fighting the spread of communism by battling leftwing guerrillas during the conflict. But many atrocities were committed, the overwhelming majority attributed to the armed forces by the United Nations, which counted 200,000 killed or missing in the 36-year war.

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