Former Guatemala dictator to face massacre charges

GUATEMALA CITY Mon May 21, 2012 10:58pm EDT

1 of 2. Former Guatemalan dictator Efrain Rios Montt sits in the Supreme Court of Justice in Guatemala City May 21, 2012.

Credit: Reuters/Jorge Dan Lopez

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GUATEMALA CITY (Reuters) - Former Guatemalan dictator Efrain Rios Montt will face a second trial on genocide charges after a judge ruled on Monday he could be prosecuted for ordering a 1982 massacre that left 201 people dead.

Rios Montt, 85, who ruled during a particularly bloody period in 1982 and 1983, is already facing trial on separate charges of genocide and crimes against humanity.

Judge Patricia Flores said on Monday she found sufficient evidence tying Rios Montt to the Las Dos Erres massacre, one of the worst mass killings at the height of the country's brutal 36-year civil war.

The massacre occurred after a group of about 20 soldiers was ordered to search the village for weapons. They blindfolded, strangled, shot and bludgeoned villagers and a newborn child to death with a sledgehammer before dumping them down a well.

Defense lawyers had argued that Montt, who ruled as commander-in-chief for 17 months, was not physically present during the massacre and therefore could not be charged.

But the judge said that soldiers do not act without an order.

Guatemala is seeking to clean up atrocities from the bloody 1960-1996 internal conflict in which nearly a quarter of a million people died or went missing.

Guatemalan courts since last August have sentenced five former soldiers to 6,060 years in prison each for participating in the Las Dos Erres massacre.

The length of the sentences is largely symbolic since Guatemalan laws only allow inmates to serve a maximum of 50 years.

Rios Montt's trial on separate genocide charges began earlier this year but is stalled pending decisions on several appeals presented by the former dictator's defense.

In that trial, Rios Montt is accused of ordering killings of at least 1,700 Maya indigenous people during a government crackdown on leftist insurgents.

(Reporting by Mike McDonald)

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