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DISASTER MANAGEMENT
Guatemalan ex-dictator set for genocide retrial
By Henry MORALES ARANA
Guatemala City (AFP) Jan 8, 2016


US deports Salvadoran ex-minister
San Salvador (AFP) Jan 9, 2016 - The United States on Friday deported a former Salvadoran defense minister who was accused of human rights crimes during his country's 1980-1992 civil war.

Jose Guillermo Garcia, 82, was seen arriving at San Salvador's international airport with 131 other Salvadorans forcibly expelled from America, to cries of "murderer, murderer" from waiting rights activists.

The US embassy in El Salvador informed authorities that Garcia, a retired general who served as minister from 1979 to 1983, was deported after his application to stay in the United States was rejected by an immigration appeals court.

A US judge had signed his deportation order for his role "in the commission of human rights violations during El Salvador's civil war," it said.

El Salvador's military government at the time was backed by the United States in a conflict against leftwing guerrillas who were supported by the Soviet Union and Cuba. More than 75,000 people died in the war and more than 7,000 went missing.

A coordinator for El Salvador's Human Rights Commission, Miguel Montenegro, told AFP that Garcia was minister when a San Salvador archbishop, Oscar Romero, was murdered during mass in 1980, and when the Salvadoran army massacred 800 people in the village of El Mozote the following year.

"He would have much to confess in court," Montenegro said.

However that prospect is removed in El Salvador under a 1993 amnesty law pardoning those who committed rights crimes during the civil war.

In April last year, the United States deported another former Salvadoran defense minister from the civil war period, Carlos Eugenio Vides, who was in office from 1984 to 1989.

Other retired Salvadoran military officers also went to America after the war.

A colonel who was minister for public security between 1989 and 1992, Inocente Orlando Montano, is in a US prison serving 21 years for migration fraud and perjury.

Spain is seeking his extradition on accusations of having participated in the murder of seven Salvadoran-Spanish Jesuit priests and two women in 1989.

A Guatemala court will begin a special closed-door retrial Monday of former dictator Efrain Rios Montt on charges of genocide and crimes against humanity committed during his 1982-1983 rule.

The 89-year-old will be absent from the trial on grounds of old age and senility -- he is said to be bedridden in his home in a wealthy district of the capital Guatemala City.

Prosecutors hope to reassert a conviction against the ex-general delivered in a May 2013 trial but which was overturned within days by Guatemala's constitutional court, which ordered the new trial. In the discarded verdict he was sentenced to 80 years in prison.

Rios Montt is accused of being responsible for the murders of 1,771 indigenous Mayan Ixils during his reign at the height of Guatemala's 36-year civil war, which ended in 1996.

According to the UN, some 200,000 people died or were made to disappear during the long, brutal conflict.

"We are ready to start the new debate. The witnesses have indicated that they want to come back to testify," Juan Francisco Soto of the Legal Action for Human Rights Center (CALDH), one of the plaintiffs, told AFP.

"If genocide was proved once, we'll be able to prove it in this new trial."

- Political trial? -

The judges hearing the case decided in August to conduct the trial in camera, with no media allowed and only lawyers and relatives of the victims present.

Should he be convicted again, Rios Montt would be subject to detention in line with his health condition, meaning possible hospital internment or home confinement.

He is accused of orchestrating an extermination policy against the indigenous population, which was perceived to be collaborating with the leftwing guerrillas waging war with government forces.

Jaime Hernandez, a defense lawyer for the former dictator, declared "this trial is political."

He stressed to AFP that his client "doesn't understand any imputation made against him -- if there is a conviction or acquittal, he wouldn't know."

Rios Montt, he said, was unable to rise from his bed in his home and was under the care of a nurse. Although he was able at times to speak, he was incapable of fluid communication, the lawyer said.

"There is no reason for this trial to happen," Hernandez added.

The lawyer suggested that the judges involved in the trial were seeking prominence internationally and in front of the section of the Guatemalan population thirsting for the prosecution of military leaders accused of rights violations during the civil war.

Soto rejected that latter point, saying the victims' relatives wanted justice, not revenge.

"The witnesses (in the first trial) were categoric in saying they were there seeking justice so that such acts are never again repeated," he said.

According to CALDH, four of the 100 witnesses from the first trial have since died of age-related illnesses. The testimonies are key in backing nearly 900 pieces of evidence including military documents, reports and expert accounts.

- Other cases -

At the same time as the closed-door case, the same court is meant to conduct a public trial against Rios Montt's former military intelligence chief, Jose Rodriguez.

However, defense and prosecution attorneys are worried that the special nature of the ex-dictator's trial could raise legal complications in that matter.

Soto and Hernandez said they hoped that the judges would clarify the situation to prevent verdicts being subsequently reversed or annulled.

Eighteen other retired military officers have been sentenced for at least 88 massacres committed during the civil war.

Among them is Benedicto Lucas Garcia, the former armed forces chief during the 1978-1982 presidency of his brother Fernando Romeo Lucas Garcia, during whose US-backed rule 93 percent of the atrocities attributed to the military were carried out.

Rios Montt in March 1982 deposed Lucas Garcia, who went on to die in exile in Venezuela in 2006 aged 81 and suffering from Alzheimer's.

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