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Efrain Rios Montt, Former Guatemalan Dictator, Convicted Of Genocide

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  • Cort Greene
    Efrain Rios Montt, Former Guatemalan Dictator, Convicted Of Genocide By SONIA PEREZ 05/10/13 08:41 PM ET EDT [image: AP] GUATEMALA CITY — A Guatemalan court
    Message 1 of 1 , May 10, 2013
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      Efrain Rios Montt, Former Guatemalan Dictator, Convicted Of Genocide

      By SONIA PEREZ 05/10/13 08:41 PM ET EDT [image: AP]

      GUATEMALA CITY � A Guatemalan court convicted former dictator Efrain Rios
      Montt on charges of genocide and crimes against humanity on Friday,
      sentencing him to 80 years in prison, the first such sentence ever handed
      down against a former Latin American leader.

      It was the state's first official acknowledgment that genocide occurred
      during the bloody, 36-year civil war, something the current president,
      retired Gen. Otto Perez Molina, has denied.

      "He knew about everything that was going on and he did not stop it, despite
      having the power to stop it from being carried out," said Presiding Judge
      Yassmin Barrios. "Rios Montt is guilty of genocide."

      The 86-year-old former general laughed, talked to his lawyers and listened
      to the procedures through headphones. When the guilty verdict was
      announced, the crowded courtroom erupted in cheers. Some women who lost
      relatives in the massacres wept.

      "Judge, Judge! Restore order!" Rios Montt shouted as cameramen and
      photographers swarmed him after the verdict was announced.

      A three-judge tribunal issued the verdict after the nearly two-month trial
      in which dozens of victims testified about mass rapes and the killings of
      women and children and other atrocities.

      The proceedings suffered ups and downs as the trial was suspended for 12
      days amid appeals and at times appeared headed for annulment.

      Survivors and relatives of victims have sought for 30 years to bring
      punishment for Rios Montt. For international observers and Guatemalans on
      both sides of the war, the trial could be a turning point in a nation still
      wrestling with the trauma of a conflict that killed some 200,000 people.

      "Rios Montt being found guilty ... is a significant step forward for
      justice and accountability in Guatemala," said Matthew Kennis, Amnesty
      International's chair for Central America-Mexico Coordination Group.

      Prosecutors said Rios Montt must have had knowledge of the massacres of
      Mayan Indians when he ruled Guatemala from March 1982 to August 1983 at the
      height of the country's 36-year civil war. The three-judge panel
      essentially concluded that the massacres followed the same pattern, showing
      they had been planned, something that would not be possible without the
      approval of the military command, which Rios Montt headed.

      Rios Montt had said he never knew of or ordered the massacres while in
      power. A co-defendant, Jose Mauricio Rodriguez Sanchez, a 68-year-old
      former general who was a high-ranking member of the military chiefs of
      staff during Rios Montt's administration, was acquitted.

      The 80-year sentence was somewhat symbolic, given Rios Montt's age and the
      fact that Guatemala's maximum sentence is 50 years. His lawyers vowed to
      appeal the ruling.

      "This is an unjust verdict. We already knew they were going to convict him,
      the general (Rios Montt) even came with his suitcase packed," said defense
      lawyer Francisco Palomo.

      Indians from ethnic Mayan groups broke into song after the verdict, singing
      "We only want to be human beings ... to live life, not die it."

      "This is a verdict that is just. This brings justice for the victims,
      justice for the people of Guatemala," said Edgar Perez of the Association
      for Justice and Reconciliation, one of the groups that originally brought
      the criminal complaint against the ex-dictator a dozen years ago.

      Dozens of victims testified of atrocities. A former soldier directly
      accused President Perez Molina of ordering pillaging and executions while
      serving in the military during the Rios Montt regime. Perez Molina called
      the testimony "lies."

      Ixil Indian Benjamin Geronimo, president of the Justice and Reconciliation
      Association, told the tribunal during closing arguments Thursday that he
      survived massacres and killings that claimed the lives of 256 members of
      his community.

      "I saw it with my own eyes, I'm not going to lie. Children, pregnant women
      and the elderly were killed," said Geronimo, who spoke on behalf of the
      victims.

      Rios Montt testified for the first time at his trial Thursday.

      "I declare myself innocent," Rios Montt told the three-judge tribunal as
      many in the audience applauded. "It was never my intention or my goal to
      destroy a whole ethnic group."

      Rios Montt seized power in a March 23, 1982, coup, and ruled until he
      himself was overthrown just over a year later. Prosecutors say that while
      in power he was aware of, and thus responsible for, the slaughter by
      subordinates of at least 1,771 Ixil Mayas in San Juan Cotzal, San Gaspar
      Chajul and Santa Maria Nebaj, towns in the Quiche department of Guatemala's
      western highlands.

      Those military offensives were part of a brutal, decades-long
      counterinsurgency against a leftist uprising that brought massacres in the
      Mayan heartland where the guerrillas were based.

      A U.N. truth commission said state forces and related paramilitary groups
      were responsible for 93 percent of the killings and human rights violations
      that it documented, committed mostly against indigenous Maya. Yet until
      now, only low or middle-level officials have been prosecuted for war
      atrocities.

      Prosecutors and advocates for victims built their case on thousands of
      green folders stuffed with military documents, victims' testimony and
      ballistic and forensic examinations of human remains, mostly women or
      children.

      The court was packed with representatives of indigenous, human rights and
      student groups as well as former soldiers and family members of victims.

      Military experts testifying for the victims have said this description of
      the chain of command makes it obvious that the military chief of staff and
      other high commanders including Rios Montt could have halted the massacres.

      The Guatemalan Forensic Anthropology Foundation carried out more than 60
      studies to identify some 800 sets of human remains from the area that was
      evidence in the trial, the great majority of victims were women and
      children who suffered violent deaths.

      Mayas were treated as an internal enemy because they were seen as lending
      support to the guerrillas, according to the indictment against Rios Montt.

      In Argentina, former dictator Jorge Rafael Videla was convicted in
      connection with the killing of prisoners and the kidnapping of children
      during his rule, but he was not tried for genocide.

      ____

      Associated Press Writer Olga R. Rodriguez contributed to this report


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