GUATEMALA CITY — A Guatemalan court Friday handed down the country's first conviction of a leftist guerrilla leader for the killings of indigenous farmers during the 1960-1996 civil war.
Fermin Solano got 90 years in prison for ordering a group of 10 guerrillas to strangle and kill 22 pro-government indigenous farmers in the town of El Aguacate, accusing them of collaborating with the army. The massacre took place in November 1988.
"This court finds that defendant Fermin Solano is responsible for the offense of continuous murder and crimes against humanity," Judge Walter Jimenez said before a courtroom packed with relatives and journalists in the city of Chimaltenango, about 50 miles outside Guatemala City.
Solano's family prayed and sobbed, while the defendant appeared emotionless and the judge emphasized the "right to the truth" of the victims' relatives, who suffered "psychological trauma."
Solano, known under the pseudonym "Lieutenant David," was found to have acted without the consent of senior guerrilla leaders in executing the native Indians.
Three former guerrilla commanders were questioned in the case against Solano, who belonged to the now-defunct Revolutionary Organization of Armed People, or ORPA, one of four factions during the war.
The prosecution presented some 90 exhibits, 29 witnesses and about 14 experts.
"The people have a right to the truth, so this does not go unpunished and will not happen again," said the judge. No relatives of the victims or representatives of humanitarian organizations were present in the courtroom.
Prosecutors had sought a sentence of 690 years for Solano, but the court dismissed such a move as "cruel and inhumane."
Solano, whose trial began on Feb. 27, had pleaded not guilty and demanded his release.
Captured in May 2013 in Guatemala City, the ex-rebel leader is the first former guerrilla member to be convicted over murders perpetrated during the 36-year civil war.
The war left 200,000 people dead or missing, according to a United Nations report. It blamed 93 percent of human rights violations on state forces and three percent on the guerrillas, without identifying the rest.