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Military Clears Two Officers in Slaying of an American

October 2, 1991

GUATEMALA CITY (AP) _ The military announced Tuesday it had cleared two senior officers of involvement in the slaying of an American citizen whose death had helped trigger a cutoff of U.S. military aid.

The announcement was likely to embarrass President Jorge Serrano, who was meeting with President Bush in Washington on Wednesday to lobby for renewed U.S. military aid that was frozen because of human rights abuses.

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

The army spokesman, Col. Homero Garcia, said the military prosecutor had cleared Col. Guillermo Portillo Gomez and Col. Mario Roberto Garcia Catalan of involvement in the June 1990 killing of 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.

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

A captain and nine other soldiers still face charges in the case.

The body of Devine, a 49-year-old former Peace Corps volunteer who ran a small inn near the Mayan ruins of Tikal, was found bound and hacked to death on a roadside.

Devine, a native of Belleville, Ill., had lived in Guatemala for 19 years. The northern region where he 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.

Serrano had promised to bring the killers to justice even if they were military men - a pledge that had evoked praise from Washington. The military is rarely prosecuted for crimes in Guatemala.

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

Garcia’s statement was the first in which Garcia Catalan had been identified as a suspect in the case.

The announcement came 15 days after a civilian court ruled there was enough evidence to remove immunity enjoyed by Portillo Gomez as head of a military district and to try him in a military court.

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.

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