|"Former Guatemalan special forces soldier Pedro Pimentel Rios at his trial for his role in the Dos Erres massacre." (Moises Castillo/AP)|
The Guardian, March 13, 2012
"A former Guatemalan special forces soldier has been sentenced to 6,060 years in prison for his role in the killings of 201 people in a 1982 massacre. Pedro Pimentel Rios was the fifth member of the elite military force to be sentenced to 6,060 years or more for what became known as the Dos Erres massacre after the killings in the northern Guatemala village during the 1960-96 civil war. The sentence handed down by a three-judge panel is largely symbolic since under Guatemalan law the maximum time a prisoner can serve is 50 years. It specified 30 years for each of the 201 deaths, plus 30 years for crimes against humanity. Pimentel Rios, 54, is a former instructor at a training school for the military force known as the Kaibiles. He lived in Santa Ana, California, and worked in a clothing factory for years until being detained by immigration authorities in May 2010. He was extradited to Guatemala last year. The civil war claimed at least 200,000 lives, with the country's US-backed army being responsible for most of the deaths, according to the findings of a truth commission. In December 1982, several dozen soldiers stormed Dos Erres, searched homes for missing weapons and systematically killed men, women and children. Soldiers bludgeoned villagers with a sledgehammer, threw them down a well, and raped women and girls before killing them, according to court papers filed in a case brought by US prosecutors against another former kaibil.
Pimentel denied being present at the massacre, saying he left the area in November 1982 to prepare enrolment papers for the US military training centre at the School of the Americas in Panama. Guatemala opened an investigation into the killings in 1994 and unearthed 162 skeletons. Several years later, authorities issued arrest warrants for 17 kaibiles but the cases languished. In August 2011, a Guatemalan court sentenced each of three other former special forces soldiers to 6,060 years in prison for the massacre, and sentenced a former army second lieutenant to 6,066 years. The ruling comes as Guatemala seeks to clean up atrocities from the civil war in which nearly a quarter of a million people died or went missing. In January, courts opened a trial against the former dictator Efrain Rios Montt who ruled the country for 17 months during the war's bloodiest period from 1982-1983. Montt, denied amnesty by a judge last month, faces charges of genocide and crimes against humanity. He is accused of ordering the killings of at least 1,700 innocent Mayan people during a government crackdown on leftist insurgents. Montt appealed the amnesty decision to Guatemala's constitutional court and is awaiting a verdict. His defence lawyers have said the 85-year-old did not control battlefield operations and that commanders were responsible for making decisions in their own posts."
[n.b. This is the complete text of the dispatch.]