Guatemalan president rejects testimony linking him to war crimes

GUATEMALA CITY Fri Apr 5, 2013 5:58pm EDT

Former Guatemalan dictator Efrain Rios Montt attends the tenth day of his trial in the Supreme Court of Justice in Guatemala City April 4, 2013. REUTERS/Jorge Dan Lopez

Former Guatemalan dictator Efrain Rios Montt attends the tenth day of his trial in the Supreme Court of Justice in Guatemala City April 4, 2013.

Credit: Reuters/Jorge Dan Lopez

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GUATEMALA CITY (Reuters) - Guatemalan President Otto Perez on Friday labeled as "a lie" testimony given during the trial of former dictator Efrain Rios Montt that implicated Perez in atrocities carried out by the military during the country's 1960-1996 civil war.

Giving evidence at Rios Montt's trial, a former army engineer said on Thursday that Perez commanded soldiers who burned down homes and killed unarmed civilians during a particularly bloody phase of the war.

"It's a lie and I'm not going to comment on the lies they're telling," Perez, a retired general, told reporters.

The civil war pitted leftist insurgents against a series of right-wing governments. Some 200,000 people died in the conflict, many of them ethnic Maya, and another 45,000 disappeared.

The engineer was stationed in a violent region of Guatemala where Perez commanded troops during Rios Montt's 1982-1983 rule.

Prior to taking office in 2012, Perez had faced accusations he was involved in war crimes, charges he always denied.

Rios Montt, 86, is on trial for genocide and crimes against humanity over the killing of more than 1,700 indigenous people in a counterinsurgency campaign carried out under his command.

Rios Montt's former director of intelligence is also facing the same allegations.

"The trial is against two other people and not against me," said Perez. "I am not going to be part of that circus."

Prosecutors say Rios Montt turned a blind eye as soldiers used rape, torture and arson as weapons against leftist rebels. They also targeted indigenous people in a scorched-earth offensive that killed at least 1,771 members of the Mayan Ixil group.

Rios Montt has yet to take the stand.

(Reporting by Mike McDonald and Sofia Menchu; Editing by Dave Graham and Xavier Briand)

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