by Staff Writers
Guatemala City (AFP) May 22, 2012
A Guatemelan judge has opened legal proceedings against former dictator Efrain Rios Montt for genocide in the 1982 massacre of more than 200 people.
The ex-general, who governed Guatemala from 1982-83, declared himself not guilty Monday at a hearing by Judge Carol Patricia Flores, who opened the legal proceedings against Rios Montt, 86.
"There are subjects and authorities under which I functioned. It is under the custodial law of the army, Madam judge, that I declare myself innocent," Rios Montt said, dressed in a blue suit.
Under Guatemalan law, prosecutors now have three months in which to present evidence against Rios Montt before the judge decides whether to formally charge him with genocide.
Flores said she opened the case against Rios Montt based on evidence and investigations undertaken by the public prosecutor.
It was the second time Rios Montt has been formally linked to atrocities carried out under his military government.
He has been under house arrest since January 27 awaiting another judge's decision on whether he should be formally accused in a massacre in the province of Quiche in 1982 during "scorched earth" offensives against leftist guerrillas.
The latest case involves the massacre of 201 peasant farmers in the village of Dos Erres during a military operation December 6-8, 1982 in Peten, 600 kilometers north of Guatemala City.
Four ex-military officials have already been sentenced to 6,060 years in prison each for their role in the massacre, although under Guatemalan law, they will serve no more than 50 years each.
Their convictions were the first of former military personnel in the Central American country, where 98 percent of the cases that reach the courts end with no conviction, according to the United Nations.
The military's counter-insurgency campaign under Rios Montt claimed the lives of 1,771 Maya Indians, including women and children.
In Quiche, the hardest hit region, 54 communities were destroyed and 29,000 people were driven from their homes.
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