Former Guatemala police chief on trial over embassy fire

1st October 2014, Comments 0 comments

A former Guatemalan police chief went on trial Wednesday accused of ordering a 1980 Spanish embassy fire that killed 37 people, including the father of Nobel Peace Prize winner Rigoberta Menchu.

The fire was set by police and military trying to remove a group of indigenous farmers, peasants and university students who took over the mission to denounce repression by the armed forces during Guatemala's civil war, which began in 1960 and ended in 1996.

Pedro Garcia Redondo, the sole defendant, is accused of murder, attempted murder and crimes against humanity.

Some 200 people, many of them victims' relatives, turned out for the Guatemala City trial, including Menchu, the 1992 Nobel laureate.

"We hope that the courts operate under the law and that the judges are not pressured," Menchu told AFP.

"We want to finally close the cycle of pain, of our suffering. This load is painful," she said.

An Indian priestess and Menchu carried out a Mayan ceremony in front of the court before the trial, calling for a good start to the proceedings and for justice to be done after more than 34 years.

The Spanish ambassador to Guatemala, Manuel Lejarreta, told AFP that his government was not a plaintiff in the case but "is interested in how it goes."

He said he was confident that the Guatemalan courts can get to the bottom of the burning of the embassy, which killed four Spanish diplomats including the consul.

Around 200,000 people died during the Guatemalan civil war, according to the UN.

© 2014 AFP

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