Thursday, July 28, 2011

Guatemala Las Dos Erres civil war massacre trial begins

Guatemala Las Dos Erres civil war massacre trial begins

From left, in front row, Daniel Martinez, Carlos Carias, Manuel Pop and Reyes Collin wait in court during their trial in Guatemala City (25 July 2011)The four suspects (front row) deny having been involved in the massacre


Four former Guatemalan soldiers are standing trial for the massacre of more than 220 people during the country's civil war.

The men are accused of being part of a Guatemalan counter-insurgency unit that carried out the massacre in the village of Las Dos Erres in 1982.

All four have denied the charges.

One local human rights group has called the trial "historic", saying it is the first of its kind to involve former soldiers.

The group, CALDH, has said the trial marks "the opening of the historical debate in our country".

At least 200,000 people - mainly from the indigenous Maya population - were killed during the country's 36-year civil war, which ended in 1996.

In 1999, a UN-backed commission estimated 93% of the killings were carried out by the security forces, who said they were targeting left-wing guerrillas.

The accused - Carlos Antonio Carias, Manuel Pop, Reyes Collin and Daniel Martinez - were part of the Guatemalan special forces, known as the Kaibiles.

A unit of Kaibiles entered the village of Las Dos Erres in the northern department of Peten in December 1982, during the time of the military ruler, General Efrain Rios Montt.

The military suspected the villagers of supporting or harbouring left-wing guerrillas.

Over a period of three days, the Kaibiles interrogated and then killed the inhabitants, including children, women and the elderly.

Many inhabitants were raped and beaten, before they were shot or bludgeoned to death. The victims' bodies were thrown down a well.

Fight for justice

Estimates vary as to the exact number of villagers killed.

In 2001, then Guatemalan President Alfonso Portillo acknowledged that 226 people were killed and that the state bore responsibility for the massacre.

He awarded the relatives of those killed $1.8m (£1.1m) in compensation.

But relatives say the real total of victims is over 250.

They have been fighting for justice for years. The case was first investigated in 1994.

But, until now, no-one has been prosecuted.

The Guatemalan authorities have been under pressure to prosecute those responsible for human rights violations committed during the civil war.

And in 2009, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights ruled that the state must act in the case of the Las Dos Erres massacre.

Another soldier suspected of involvement in the massacre - Pedro Pimentel Rios - was deported from the United States earlier this month, but has yet to face trial.

Several other suspects are still at large.

Guatemala tries soldiers on massacre charges

Aljazeera English:

Four officers accused of killing 201 people in the second massacre trial related to country's 36-year civil war.

[From left to right] Daniel Martinez, Carlos Carias, Manuel Pop and Reyes Collin have all pleaded not guilty [AFP]

"That day, at 5pm, people arrived to tell me that there had been a problem [in Dos Erres], and since it was not my jurisdiction I couldn't help them," said Carias, who was second lieutenant at the time in command of an area 10km from Dos Erres.

The trial of four former Guatemalan soldiers, charged with taking part in a 1982 massacre of hundreds of civilians during the country's 36-year civil war, has begun in the Guatemalan capital.

The defendents, three of whom had been members of an elite security force known as "kaibiles", pleaded innocent on Monday in a Guatemala City court to killing 201 men, women and children, in the village of Dos Erres.

Daniel Martinez, Carlos Carias, Manuel Pop and Reyes Collin said they were not in the village and were stationed elsewhere the day it was stormed by government troops who killed at least 250 people in total there, according to court filings.

"I directed them to other villages to seek help."

Raping and killing

During the atrocity, the soldiers allegedly raped and killed women and young girls, among others, and threw the bodies of victims down a well.

Dozens of bodies were exhumed from the well in the 1990s and the remains from 171 victims were recovered in total. At least 67 children under the age of 12 were among the dead.

Prosecutors say soldiers entered Dos Erres in 1982 looking for missing weapons that guerilla groups operating in the region had stolen from the soldiers days earlier.

They did not find the weapons but accused farmers in the village of collaborating with the rebels.

Witnesses say villagers were tortured and robbed by the soldiers as part of a "scorched earth" campaign to eliminate communities supporting opposition groups at the height of Guatemala's longest civil war in history.

'Hungry for meat'

Cesar Ibanez, one of the witnesses, testified in the court proceeding that one soldier had sliced off a piece of flesh from a wounded villager's rib after his superior had told the soldier he was "hungry for meat".

From 1960 to 1996, more than 200,000 people were killed or disappeared as a military dictatorship fought to quell a popular uprising across the country, according to UN figures. Entire villages were exterminated in the conflict.

This is Guatemala's second massacre trial related to the civil war.

The first trial ended in a 2004 guilty verdict against an officer and 13 soldiers, but the verdict was overturned on appeal.

Also on Monday, a judge announced that a former National Police official has been accused of carrying out an enforced disappearance during the civil war and was jailed Sunday night.

Former chief of the 6th Commando, Pedro Garcia Arredondo, is accused in the disappearance of Edgar Saenz, Judge Veronica Galicia said.