February 10, 2014 / 10:30 PM / 5 years ago

Ex-Guatemalan army officer tied to massacre sentenced to U.S. prison

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - A former Guatemalan army commander convicted of covering up his role in the massacre of 250 men, women and children during that country’s bloody civil war in order to gain U.S. citizenship was sentenced on Monday to 10 years in federal prison.

A child runs past an arrangement of flowers and candles that reads: "Justicia" (or Justice) in front of the Supreme Court at Guatemala City August 2, 2011. Guatemala on Tuesday sentenced four soldiers belonging to an elite unit known as the Kaibiles, to 6,060 years of prison each, in the first conviction for a massacre during the country's brutal 36-year civil war. More than 200 people were killed when Guatemalan soldiers attacked the northern village of Las Dos Erres in 1982 at the height of Guatemala's civil war. REUTERS/Jorge Dan Lopez

Prosecutors say Jorge Sosa lied to immigration officials about his involvement in the 1982 mass killings at the Guatemalan farming village of Dos Erres, which was considered one of the worst atrocities in that country’s bloody 36-year civil war.

Because U.S. prosecutors have no jurisdiction in Guatemala they could not charge Sosa, also known as Jorge Vinicio Sosa Orantes, in connection with the killings. His U.S. citizenship was revoked at the sentencing.

“Jorge Sosa helped orchestrate the ruthless massacre of innocent villagers, including dozens of young children, and then lied about his past to obtain refuge in the United States,” acting Assistant Attorney General Raman said in a statement following the sentencing.

“This prosecution demonstrates our resolve to deny safe haven to human rights violators and to ensure that these criminals are held accountable,” Raman said.

A jury in federal court in Riverside, California, in October found Sosa guilty of one count each of making false statements during an immigration proceeding and unlawful procurement of naturalized American citizenship.

According to a federal grand jury indictment handed down in September 2009, Sosa was a commanding officer of a Guatemalan Army special forces unit known as the Kaibiles that killed nearly everyone living in tiny Dos Erres, in many cases hitting victims with a sledgehammer and then dumping their bodies into a well.

Many of the women and girls of the village were raped before they were slain.

The Kaibiles unit had been dispatched to Dos Erres to find members of a guerrilla group that had ambushed a military convoy that November, killing soldiers and taking their weapons.

Sosa was taken into custody in Canada, where he fled after his indictment, and extradited back to the United States. He is the fourth accused member of the Kaibiles living in the United States to be targeted by the Human Rights Violators and War Crimes Center of U.S. Immigration Customs Enforcement.

In July 2011, Pedro Pimentel Rios, 54, was deported to Guatemala to face prosecution there in connection with the massacre.

In September 2010, 54-year-old Gilberto Jordan was sentenced to 120 months in federal prison and his U.S. citizenship was revoked after he pleaded guilty to lying to immigration officials about his role in the Kaibiles.

And in February 2010, Santos Lopez Alonzo was arrested By U.S. immigration agents in Houston and charged with illegal re-entry into the country after deportation.

Reporting by Dan Whitcomb; Editing by Cynthia Johnston and Leslie Adler

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