LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - U.S. authorities on Tuesday deported a former Guatemalan special forces soldier accused of participating in a 1982 massacre that claimed at least 162 lives.
Pedro Pimentel Rios, 54, is wanted in Guatemala on criminal charges for his alleged role in the Las Dos Erres massacre, the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency said in a news release.
Pimentel Rios was deported on an ICE charter flight to Guatemala, where he was immediately turned over to Guatemalan police, ICE said.
Guatemala's Public Ministry said he would have his first hearing in a penal court in Guatemala City on Thursday, on murder and human rights abuse charges.
The massacre occurred at the height of Guatemala's 36-year civil war between leftist guerrillas and the government, which killed almost a quarter of a million people between 1960-1996 people, mainly poor Mayans.
Guatemalan authorities allege Pimentel Rios was among some 20 members of an elite army unit dubbed the Kaibiles who murdered dozens of men, women and children in the village of Las Dos Erres in December 1982.
The Kaibiles had gone to the remote settlement to look for left-wing guerrillas allegedly responsible for ambushing an army convoy nearby, and stealing more than 20 military rifles.
After reaching the village, the Kaibiles began searching for the missing weapons, forcing the residents from their homes and interrogating them about the stolen guns, ICE said. No rifles were recovered.
The soldiers then shot, strangled and bludgeoned the villagers to death with sledgehammers, starting with the children. The bodies were then tossed into the village's well.
An immigration judge in Los Angeles cleared the way for Pimentel Rios' repatriation to Guatemala in May, ruling he was deportable based upon his participation in the killings.
"For the families who lost loved ones at Dos Erres, justice has been a long time coming, but they can take consolation in the fact that those responsible for this tragedy are now being held accountable for their crimes," said ICE Director John Morton.
Pimentel Rios, who had worked maintenance in Santa Ana, California, is the fourth former Kaibil living in the United States linked to the massacre to be targeted by ICE.
Gilberto Jordan was sentenced in Florida to 10 years in federal prison for failing to disclose his prior military service and involvement in the killings on his citizenship application.
Criminal charges for naturalization fraud are pending in Los Angeles against Jorge Vincio Sosa Orantes, awaiting extradition following his arrest by Canadian authorities in January.
A fourth Kaibil, Santos Lopez Alonzo, was arrested in Houston where he was charged in February 2010 with criminal reentry after deportation.
(Reporting by Tim Gaynor; Additional reporting by Mike McDonald in Guatemala City; Editing by Jerry Norton)