October 13, 2011 / 10:26 PM / 8 years ago

Guatemala seeks former president on genocide charges

GUATEMALA CITY (Reuters) - Authorities in Guatemala declared former president Oscar Mejia a fugitive on Thursday after ordering his arrest to face charges of genocide during the 36-year civil war in the Central American country.

Mejia, 80, is wanted for ordering massacres in the Ixil, Quiche indigenous region when he served as chief of the military in 1982-1983, the war’s bloodiest years under former dictator Efrain Rios Montt, the government said.

A court put out an arrest warrant late on Wednesday for Mejia, who led a military coup against Rios Montt and served as president between 1983 and early 1986.

Police raided four homes in the capital Guatemala City but could not find Mejia, prompting the Attorney General’s office to announce that it had declared him a fugitive.

The 1960-1996 civil war between government forces and leftist guerrillas left dead or missing nearly a quarter million people, mostly Mayan.

A United Nations-backed truth commission after the war found the army had committed hundreds of massacres.

Guatemala elects a new president next month.

Right-wing candidate and retired general Otto Perez is leading the race to replace leftist President Alvaro Colom, whose administration has started cracking down on suspected war criminals.

The prospect of a military man taking the reins again in Guatemala has stirred up memories of the civil war. A poll on Wednesday showed the contest is tightening.

Reporting by Mike McDonald; Editing by Will Dunham

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