Ex-soldiers link troops to Guatemala massacre

AP News
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Posted: Jul 26, 2011 12:37 AM
Ex-soldiers link troops to Guatemala massacre

Two former Guatemalan soldiers testified that fellow troops standing trial Monday bludgeoned villagers and threw them down a well in a 1982 massacre of more than 200 men, women and children.

The two witnesses were testifying on the first day of the trial of three former soldiers and an officer accused in the notorious Dos Erres massacre, in which soldiers allegedly killed at least 250 people in a village in northern Guatemala. The four men are accused of 201 of the killings.

The men told the court they were innocent, claiming they were not in the village of Dos Erres on the day of the massacre. Three of the accused were members of an elite Guatemalan military force known as "kaibiles."

But witnesses testified that at least two of the four men being charged took part in the killings.

Fabio Pinzon and Cesar Franco Ibanez _ protected witnesses who testified from Mexico via teleconference _ acknowledged in Monday's trial that they had been among "kaibiles" who stormed the village.

Ibanez testified that he blindfolded villagers and brought them to a well. But both witnesses said other kaibiles did the actual killing.

They said that one of the accused had raped a girl and another had killed a boy.

"I saw how Manuel Pop Sun took a boy, they took him to a well. The boy was crying and then he threw him in," said Pinzon in the trial, which was televised in Guatemala.

Pinzon was referring to one of the men on trial, who along with Daniel Martinez, Reyes Collin Gualip and Carlos Antonio Carias are accused of crimes against humanity, among other charges.

The accused denied they were involved in the massacre.

"That day, at 5 p.m., 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 10 kilometers (6 miles) from Dos Erres.

"I directed them to other villages to seek help," he added.

This is Guatemala's second massacre trial related to its 1960-1996 civil war, when more than 200,000 people were killed or went missing and entire villages were exterminated, according to the United Nations.

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

In Dos Erres, court filings say soldiers raped and killed women and girls, and banished hundreds of people from the community.

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

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

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

Witnesses say villagers were tortured and robbed by the soldiers as part of a "scorched earth" effort to eliminate communities supporting insurgent groups at the height of Guatemala's 36-year civil war.

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

The trial had been delayed since 2000 through dozens of court injunctions.

Also Monday, a judge announced that a former National Police official has been accused of carrying out 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, said Judge Veronica Galicia.