|[From left to right] Daniel Martinez, Carlos Carias, Manuel Pop and Reyes Collin have all pleaded not guilty [AFP]|
The trial of four former Guatemalan soldiers, charged with taking part in a 1982 massacre of hundreds of civilians during the country’s 36-year civil war, has begun in the Guatemalan capital.
The defendents, three of whom had been members of an elite security force known as “kaibiles”, pleaded innocent on Monday in a Guatemala City court to killing 201 men, women and children, in the village of Dos Erres.
Daniel Martinez, Carlos Carias, Manuel Pop and Reyes Collin said they were not in the village and were stationed elsewhere the day it was stormed by government troops who killed at least 250 people in total there, according to court filings.
“That day, at 5pm, people arrived to tell me that there had been a problem [in Dos Erres], and since it was not my jurisdiction I couldn’t help them,” said Carias, who was second lieutenant at the time in command of an area 10km from Dos Erres.
“I directed them to other villages to seek help.”
Raping and killing
During the atrocity, the soldiers allegedly raped and killed women and young girls, among others, and threw the bodies of victims down a well.
Dozens of bodies were exhumed from the well in the 1990s and the remains from 171 victims were recovered in total. At least 67 children under the age of 12 were among the dead.
Prosecutors say soldiers entered Dos Erres in 1982 looking for missing weapons that guerilla groups operating in the region had stolen from the soldiers days earlier.
They did not find the weapons but accused farmers in the village of collaborating with the rebels.
Witnesses say villagers were tortured and robbed by the soldiers as part of a “scorched earth” campaign to eliminate communities supporting opposition groups at the height of Guatemala’s longest civil war in history.
‘Hungry for meat’
Cesar Ibanez, one of the witnesses, testified in the court proceeding that one soldier had sliced off a piece of flesh from a wounded villager’s rib after his superior had told the soldier he was “hungry for meat”.
From 1960 to 1996, more than 200,000 people were killed or disappeared as a military dictatorship fought to quell a popular uprising across the country, according to UN figures. Entire villages were exterminated in the conflict.
This is Guatemala’s second massacre trial related to the civil war.
The first trial ended in a 2004 guilty verdict against an officer and 13 soldiers, but the verdict was overturned on appeal.
Also on Monday, a judge announced that a former National Police official has been accused of carrying out an enforced disappearance during the civil war and was jailed Sunday night.
Former chief of the 6th Commando, Pedro Garcia Arredondo, is accused in the disappearance of Edgar Saenz, Judge Veronica Galicia said.