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New Guatemalan President Shakes Up Military; Mulls Over New Cabinet

June 8, 1993

GUATEMALA CITY (AP) _ Guatemala’s new president took action to put democracy on more solid footing with major changes in the military high command.

But at a news conference Monday, President Ramiro de Leon Carpio asked for time to form a new Cabinet, saying his first mandate was ″to gain the unity of Guatemalans.″ He said any unilateral government cease-fire or major developments in peace talks with leftist guerrillas also would have to wait.

Congress chose the former government human rights prosecutor to lead the country Saturday night after weeks of political chaos. He replaces Jorge Serrano, ousted one week after declaring one-man rule.

De Leon spoke with reporters at the National Palace shortly after firing the powerful former defense minister, Gen. Jose Domingo Garcia Samayoa, who had close ties to Serrano.

Garcia Samayoa was replaced by Gen. Jorge Roberto Perussina Rivera, the armed forces chief-of-staff and a man considered by many to be more amenable to de Leon’s efforts to restore respect for human rights.

Gen. Mario Enriquez Morales, who moved into Perussina’s position, is considered even more moderate. As one of five officers negotiating an end to Guatemala’s 33-year-old civil war, his appointment may herald a softer line by the military in peace talks with leftist rebels and a tougher line toward human rights abuses.

More than two years of talks have ended in stalemate.

The army shuffle came one day after de Leon was sworn into office and promised to ″purge all government institutions, including the army″ to restore stability and consolidate democracy.

As attorney general for human rights, De Leon successfully prosecuted some of Guatemala’s more notorious abuse cases, getting extremely rare convictions of soldiers and military officers.

He escaped house arrest after Serrano dissolved congress and the Supreme Court on May 25 and tried to impose one-man rule with Garcia Samayoa’s backing.

The power grab came after two weeks of demonstrations by students, workers and other groups over high prices, increases in utility rates and other austerity measures.

Serrano said he needed absolute power to get the country under control again and clearn up widespread corruption. But opposition at home, cancellation of aid by major patrons and the threat of further sanctions forced him from office.

He fled to El Salvador and later was granted asylum in Panama.

Samayoa apparently was ousted because of his closeness to Serrano. He also backed the presidential claim of Vice President Gustavo Espina Salguero but withdrew support when opposition lawmakers refused to swear in Espina last week.

The soft-spoken de Leon, 51, was considered an outsider for the presidency partly because his prosecution of human rights violations angered some members of the powerful military. He is to serve until the end of Serrano’s term in February 1996.

One of his first acts was to ask for a restoration of foreign aid. The United States said Monday it would resume aid valued at about $30 million.

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