Guatemala's former military leader Efrain Rios Montt, 85, has appeared in court to face accusations of genocide and other human rights crimes allegedly committed during his 17-month long rule.

Rios Montt, known for his "scorched earth" campaign against Guatemala's leftist rebels, may have to answer charges that his regime was responsible for the massacre of tens of thousands of people.

Thursday's hearing was to determine whether the former dictator should be formally charged with alleged atrocities that occurred during his regime from 1982 to 1983, prosecutors said.

The hearing is the first since Rios Montt lost the congressional immunity that for years had shielded him from prosecution for human rights crimes.

Guatemala's truth commission, which has been tasked with investigating the killings, estimates that there have been about 200,000 casualties from the country's 36-year civil war that ended in 1996.

Some of the worst atrocities are said to have taken place during Rios Montt's rule.

The UN-backed group, the Historical Clarification Commission, found that the government was guilty of a deliberate campaign of genocide against the mostly poor, indigenous massacre victims, many of whom were caught in the crossfire as the government battled leftist rebels.

Source: Al Jazeera and agencies