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March 7, 2021
WORLD

Genocide trial of Guatemala ex-leader opens

The trial of General Efrain Rios Montt, 86, the former US-backed de facto president of Guatemala, has begun over the killing of almost 1,800 indigenous people during his country’s civil war, Al Jazeera reports. Rios Montt, 86, seized power in a coup in March 1982 and ruled until he was overthrown in August 1983. Prosecutors alleged on Tuesday that Rios Montt “turned a blind eye” as soldiers used rape, torture and arson against leftist fighters and targeted indigenous people in a “scorched earth” offensive that killed at least 1,771 members of the Mayan Ixil group. Nicolas Brito, an indigenous Ixil, was the first of at least 150 witnesses expected to give their testimony in the trial of the first Latin American leader to be tried on genocide charges in his own country. Jose Rodriguez Sanchez, 68, a former high-ranking member of the military chiefs of staff, is also being tried with Rios Montt.The prosecution says it has no evidence of a direct order from Rios Montt to slaughter civilians during the country’s long civil war.  However, the prosecutors hope to prove through a detailed recreation of the military chain of command that Rios Montt must have had knowledge of the massacres of the Ixil and others in the Guatemalan highlands. Prosecuters alleged Rios Montt’s failure to stop the slaughter was proof of his guilt because he held absolute power over the military government.  Rios Montt was protected from prosecution for decades as a congressman by a law that grants immunity to public officials. Indigenous activists demonstrated outside the court in support of his alleged victims on Tuesday morning. Former members of government-backed paramilitary groups, blamed for many of the killings, showed their support for the accused.

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