Ex-Guatemalan commander linked to massacre to stand trial in U.S.

Reuters News
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Posted: Sep 25, 2012 4:39 PM
Ex-Guatemalan commander linked to massacre to stand trial in U.S.

By Dan Whitcomb

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - A former Guatemalan Army commander suspected in a notorious massacre during the country's civil war has been ordered to stand trial in the United States on charges he lied about his past to gain U.S. citizenship, prosecutors said on Tuesday.

Jorge Sosa, who was extradited to the United States from Canada last week, was ordered held without bond during a hearing on Monday in U.S. District Court in Riverside, California, Assistant U.S. Attorney Jeannie Joseph said.

Joseph said a November 27 trial date had been set for Sosa, who has been accused of taking part in the Guatemalan civil war massacre at Dos Erres, a farming village where 250 men, women and children were brutally slain by military commandos in 1982.

U.S. prosecutors have no jurisdiction in Guatemala and have not charged Sosa, also known as Jorge Vinicio Sosa Orantes, in connection with the Dos Erres killings that are considered one of the worst atrocities in that country's bloody, 36-year civil war.

Instead, he is charged with making false statements to immigration officials to cover up his past as he sought to become a naturalized U.S. citizen in 2008. If convicted, Sosa could be sent to Guatemala after serving his U.S. sentence to face potential charges there.

Law enforcement sources say Sosa, who has been living in the Riverside area, fled to Canada when he learned he was under investigation. Riverside is about 60 miles east of Los Angeles.

An attorney for Sosa could not immediately be reached for comment. The ProPublica news service has reported that Sosa denied guilt in a recent interview from jail in Canada.

According to a U.S. federal grand jury indictment issued in September 2009, Sosa was a commanding officer of a Guatemalan Army special forces unit known as the Kaibiles that killed nearly everyone living in tiny Dos Erres, many by hitting them with a sledgehammer and dumping their bodies into a well.

Many of the women and girls of the village were raped before they were slain.

The Kaibiles unit had been dispatched to Dos Erres to find members of a guerrilla group that had ambushed a military convoy in November 1982, killing soldiers and taking their weapons.

One of two known survivors, 33-year-old Oscar Ramirez Castaneda, was granted political asylum on Monday in the United States, according to his attorneys.

Castaneda, who learned only last year that he had been abducted as a young boy by a Guatemalan army lieutenant during the massacre and raised by the man's family, was assisting prosecutors in cases against former members of the Kaibiles.

Sosa is the fourth former Kaibiles member living in the United States to be targeted by the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's Human Rights Violators and War Crimes Center. (Editing by Tim Gaynor and Philip Barbara)