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Former Guatemalan dictator claims innocence



(Vatican Radio) The former dictator of Guatemala, Efrain Rios Montt, professed his innocence to charges of genocide and crimes against humanity close to the end of his trial.

The 86-year-old former army general, who had launched a coup d'état on March 23, 1982, and ruled by force for 16 months before being ousted, spoke for more than an hour during his trial yesterday. He spoke convinced that his time in office was dedicated to re-establishing order and maintaining it. His duty was clear and he had followed it, he maintained.

Rios Montt is accused of genocide, particularly against indigenous peoples, who the military accused of supporting left-wing guerrillas. At least 1,771 members of the Maya Isil indigenous group were killeds during his rule. Rios Montt denied directly ordering any killings during his time as dictator.

In old age, he became a member of Congress. But this ended on 14 January 2012, he was indicted for genocide and crimes against humanity 12 days later.

Guatemala's civil war lasted from 1960 to 1996. Rios Montt was but a single chapter in this tragic history. Yet he is credited with launching a campaign back then called “guns and beans” and is quoted as saying: "If you're with us, we'll feed you; if you’re not, we'll kill you."

Listen to the report by James Blears: RealAudioMP3





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