Rios Montt Not Seriously Hurt in Protest
JUAN CARLOS LLORCA
Jun. 15, 2003
RABINAL, Guatemala (AP) _ Villagers pelted former dictator and current president of Congress Gen. Efrain Rios Montt with rocks as he arrived to an isolated corner of the Guatemalan highlands Saturday.
The 77-year-old was not seriously injured, but security personnel had to carry him away from a riot that erupted when he arrived in the largely Mayan town of Rabinal, five hours by car from Guatemala City, the capital.
Rios Montt took power in a coup in March 1982 but was himself deposed in a military uprising 18 months later. While in office, he began a scorched earth campaign that killed thousands of civilians suspected of aiding rebels in Rabinal and other largely Mayan communities. Peace accords ended the civil war in December 1996, but not before 200,000 Guatemalans were killed.
Rios Montt intends to seek the presidency during elections Nov. 9 and traveled to Rabinal to meet with local members of his party, the Guatemalan Republican Front.
A crowd of more than 150 protesters began forming hours before Rios Montt arrived at the site of the party meeting, chanting ``murderer.'' Nearby, a large group of Rios Montt supporters defended the retired general.
When Rios Montt arrived, a protester hurled a rock at him. ``We have to respect all Guatemalans,'' Rios Montt said. But the uprising then quickly intensified, forcing body guards to remove him from the area.
Security personnel and party officials escorted Rios Montt to a waiting car. A government chopper then airlifted him to the nearby town of Cubulco.
Several people sustained minor injuries in the uprising, including a reporter and a photographer from The Associated Press.
``What happened is a violation of human rights because we were engaged in a peaceful act,'' said Rios Montt's daughter, Zury Rios Sosa, a sitting lawmaker who also traveled to Rabinal.
Many of those protesting Rios Montt on Saturday had been planning to bury the remains of 66 people killed by state forces during the height of Guatemala's 36-year civil war.
During excavations last year, forensic scientists uncovered seven clandestine graves that soldiers dug in and around Rabinal to dispose of victims killed in 1981, when the government was locked in pitched battles with leftist, largely Mayan guerrillas.
The U.S. State Department has said another Rios Montt presidency could strain U.S.-Guatemalan relations, apparently because of the first Rios Montt regime's checkered human rights record.