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War crimes trial over Guatemala massacre begins

Four former Guatemalan soldiers plead not guilty to war crimes charges Tuesday as the first war crimes trial over the 1982 Dos Erres massacre began. Carlos Antonio Carias, Manuel Pop, Reyes Collin and Daniel Martinez are accused [BBC report] of being members of a military force that allegedly killed more than 250 people in the town of Dos Erres in 1982 during the country's 36-year civil war [GlobalSecurity backgrounder]. Three of the men were members of a special forces unit known as the Kaibiles, at least part of which is alleged to have played a role in the massacre. The military force was attempting to rout out insurgents during Guatemala's military rule under General Efrain Rios Montt. The four men pleaded not guilty arguing that they were not stationed with the group that carried out the atrocities at Dos Erres. They are accused of killing 201 farmers. There are also allegations [AP report] that many women and girls in Dos Erres were raped and killed during the massacre. The Guatemalan civil war resulted in more than 200,000 deaths, mostly among Guatemala's large indigenous Mayan population. According to a UN report released in 1999, the military was responsible for 95 percent of those deaths.

Earlier this month, the UN said it approved of the arrest [JURIST report] of a former top Guatemalan military figure accused of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity. General Hector Mario Lopez Fuentes, former chief of staff of Guatemalan armed forces from 1982-1983, is accused of directing military attacks against citizens, namely indigenous Mayans. Villages were destroyed and women and girls were systematically raped under his authorization. In response many deaths during the civil war, the Guatemalan government founded the National Compensation Program (PNR) in 2003 to deal with claims by civilians affected by the civil war. The PNR, after setting up its administrative structure, has begun to use its $40 million budget to work through a backlog of more than 98,000 civilian complaints. More than 1,000 complaints were filed in 2008. The PNR hopes to file the majority of the complaints within the next year.

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