March 13, 2012 / 5:26 AM / 7 years ago

Guatemala sentences soldier to 6,060 years for massacre

GUATEMALA CITY (Reuters) - A Guatemalan court sentenced a former special forces soldier to 6,060 years in prison on Monday for participating in a 1982 massacre that claimed 201 lives.

Pedro Pimentel Rios listens during his opening trial at the court in Guatemala City February 23, 2012. Guatemalan authorities allege Pimentel Rios was among some 20 members of an elite army unit dubbed the Kaibiles who murdered dozens of men, women and children in the village of Las Dos Erres in December 1982 at the height of the country's civil war. REUTERS/Willian Gularte

Pedro Pimentel, 55, was deported from Los Angeles, California to Guatemala last year to face charges of murder and crimes against humanity and is the fifth soldier to be sentenced in the Central American nation for his role in the Las Dos Erres massacre at the height of the country’s brutal civil war.

The length of the sentence is largely symbolic because Guatemala’s laws only allow inmates to serve a maximum of 50 years.

A former soldier who took part in the massacre testified that Pimentel was among a group of some 20 soldiers ordered to the village in December 1982 to search for missing weapons.

The soldiers then blindfolded, strangled and bludgeoned villagers and a newborn child to death with a sledgehammer before dumping them down a 15-meter(49-foot)-deep well.

Pimentel, a former member of the elite unit known as the Kaibiles, was given 30 years of prison for each victim killed in the attack and 30 years for crimes against humanity.

Now grey haired, Pimentel denied being present at the massacre, saying he left the area in November 1982 to prepare enrollment papers for the School of the Americas in Panama.

The ruling comes as Guatemala seeks to clean up atrocities from the bloody 1960-1996 internal conflict in which nearly a quarter of a million people died or went missing.

A judge sentenced four soldiers to 6,060 years in prison each last August for the Las Dos Erres Massacre.

Courts opened a trial in January against former dictator Efrain Rios Montt who ruled the country for 17 months during the war’s bloodiest period from 1982-1983.

Montt, denied amnesty by a judge last month, faces charges of genocide and crimes against humanity. He is accused of ordering killings of at least 1,700 innocent Maya indigenous people during a government crackdown on leftist insurgents.

Montt appealed the amnesty decision to Guatemala’s Constitutional Court and is awaiting a verdict.

His defense lawyers said that Montt, 85, did not control battlefield operations and that commanders were responsible for making decisions in their own posts.

(This story was refiled to change day of week in first paragrah to Monday)

Reporting by Mike McDonald; Editing by Sandra Maler

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