Guatemalan President Denies Link to War Crimes

Saturday, 06 Apr 2013 08:21 AM


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GUATEMALA CITY — 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 during the country's long civil war.

Giving evidence at Rios Montt's trial, a former army engineer testified a day earlier 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 in response to the testimony.

The civil war pitted leftist insurgents against a series of right-wing governments from 1960 to 1996. 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 has 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.

© 2014 Thomson/Reuters. All rights reserved.

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