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Lawyer for ex-Guatemalan dictator shot to death

June 4, 2015

A lawyer who had defended ex-dictator Efrain Rioss Montt against genocide charges has been assassinated in broad daylight. Montt was alleged to have ordered a massacre of the indigenous Ixil Maya people.

Guatemala Prozess Jose Efrain Rios Montt 19.11.2013
Image: picture-alliance/dpa

Gunmen shot to death an attorney for Guatemala's former dictator Efrain Rios Montt as he sat in his car on Wednesday, authorities said.

Francisco Palomo (pictured left) had defended Montt against charges of genocide during Guatemala's civil war. He was driving in his car when two gunmen reportedly on a motorcyle opened fire on his vehicle in broad daylight, striking him 12 times and killing him in a busy commercial area of Guatemala city.

"The victim, still alive, tried to flee the attack and drove a few meters before crashing into a tree," Guatemala city firefighters' spokesman Raul Hernandez said. "His body remained inside the vehicle."

The 63-year-old Palomo was a former constitutional court judge, and was one of the lead attorneys for Rioss Montt, who ruled Guatemala with an iron fist in the 1980s.

Rios Montt, now in his 80s, was sentenced to 80 years in prison for genocide and war crimes in 2013. But Guatemala's Constitutional Court threw out that conviction on a technicality and ordered a new trial.

A new court was supposed to take up the trial on January 5, but was delayed after attorneys for Rios Montt had the judge recused for having written publicly about genocide in a 2004 theses.

Rios Montt ruled Guatemala from March 1982 to August 1983 during a bloody civil war between leftist rebels and a succession of rightwing governments.

He is alleged, along with his former intelligence chief, Jose Rodriguez, to have ordered the army to massacre Ixil Maya indigenous people in northern Guatemala. Indigenous Guatemalans were often accused of lending support to the leftist rebels during the war.

According to a 1999 UN report, nearly 200,000 people were killed or vanished without a trace during the civil war lasting from 1960-1996, with the majority of the human rights violations occurring from 1978-1984.

Lawyers for Rios Montt say the former dictator was not aware of the Guatemalan army's killings of the Ixil Maya people.

Guatemala has one of the highest homicide rates in the world, with 34 per 100,000 residents.

bw/bk (AP, AFP, Reuters)

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