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Guatemala to try more former top military officials for Maya genocide

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By Reuters

By Sofia Menchu

GUATEMALACITY (Reuters) – Guatemala’s human rights prosecutor on Friday indicted another former top military official for genocide and crimes against humanity committed during the bloodiest phase of the Central American country’s 36-year civil war.

A military operations chief under deceased Guatemalan dictator Efrain Rios Montt, Luis Enrique Mendoza Garcia will be tried in March for his role in an operation in the early 1980s that killed at least 1,771 Maya Ixil and displaced thousands.

Judge Jimmy Bremer on Friday formally received the charges the prosecutors presented against the 76-year-old in a court in Guatemala City.

Mendoza Garcia is the fourth top military official facing justice in less than a week after Benedicto Lucas Garcia, Manuel Callejas and Cesar Noguera were indicted in a separate case of genocide against the same community.

“I was not the one who ruled,” Mendoza Garcia said in a declaration given by video conference, adding that he had had no means to plan or carry out such an operation. Reuters was unable to contact the accused, all of whom have denied the allegations.

Mendoza Garcia was captured six months ago after having been on the run since 2011. Guatemala’s human rights prosecutor said there were more victims and witnesses who could testify against him than in other processes.  

Former military intelligence chief Jose Mauricio Rodriguez was acquitted last year of charges of genocide and crimes against humanity after the court said it had insufficient evidence.

During the civil war, from 1960 to 1996, an estimated 200,000 mostly Mayan civilians were killed and another 45,000 went missing.

Rios Montt, who ruled during the war’s bloodiest phase, between 1982 and 1983, died in April last year. At that time, he was facing renewed charges after his conviction for genocide and crimes against humanity was overturned.

Lucas Garcia is the brother of former president Romeo Lucas Garcia. Guatemala’s human rights prosecutor accuses him of having planned one of the operations in the Maya Ixil region some 225km northwest of the capital.

Separately on Friday, Guatemalan President-elect Alejandro Giammattei regretted the decision of a Swiss court to uphold a 15-year prison sentence for Swiss-Guatemalan Erwin Sperisen for his role in a 2006 prison operation.

Giammattei himself faced accusations of human rights violations for the same incident, during which seven prisoners but no government officials died; he was later exonerated for lack of evidence.

“An act of injustice,” Giammattei said. “I would have liked to testify in the case.” Sperisen’s lawyers did not immediately respond to a request for comment but told local media they would take the case to the European Court of Human Rights.

(Reporting by Sofia Menchu; Writing and additional reporting by Stefanie Eschenbacher; Editing by Frank Jack Daniel and Leslie Adler)