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Military Clears Two Officers in Slaying of an American

October 2, 1991

GUATEMALA CITY (AP) _ Although the military has cleared two senior officers in the murder of a former Peace Corp volunteer, a captain and 10 other soldiers still face charges in the case.

The army announced Tuesday that the military prosecutor had absolved Col. Guillermo Portillo Gomez and Col. Mario Roberto Garcia Catalan of involvement in the June 1990 killing of 49-year-old Michael Devine.

The United States cited slow progress in the Devine case and others when it cut off all $2.8 million in military aid to Guatemala in December. Congress is to vote next month on whether to maintain the freeze.

President Jorge Serrano had promised to bring Devine’s killers to justice even if they were military men - a pledge that evoked praise from Washington. Serrano met today with President Bush in Washington to press for renewed U.S. aid.

Rights groups charge that Guatemala’s military is one of the most brutal in the world and is immune from punishment for atrocities.

The military has been reluctant to discuss its inquiry into Devine’s killing. Until Tuesday, Garcia Catalan had not been identified as a suspect in the case.

Still awaiting trial, under barracks arrest, are army Capt. Hugo Roberto Contreras Alvarez and 10 other soldiers.

The U.S. Embassy issued a statement Tuesday saying it hoped Guatemala ″will continue investigating all aspects of the Michael Devine case until those guilty of this crime are sentenced.″

The body of Devine, a native of Belleville, Ill., who had lived in Guatemala for 19 years and ran an inn near the Mayan ruins of Tikal, was found bound and hacked to death on a roadside.

The northern region where Devine lived was one of Guatemala’s bloodiest during the 1980s, when the army carried out a scorched-earth policy against leftist rebels. It remains under virtual military rule.

Portillo Gomez had commanded the Poptun military base, 130 miles northeast of the capital, in the region where Devine was killed.

In Guatemala, all soldiers have the right to be tried by a military prosecutor. The military turned over the government to civilian rule in 1986.

Update hourly