Refugee Leader: Massacre Endangers Peace Talks
GUATEMALA CITY (AP) _ President Ramiro de Leon Carpio on Friday accepted responsibility for the massacre of 10 former refugees, and promised to prosecute the soldiers who fired rifles and tossed grenades at a village meeting.
``As President and chief of the armed forces I assume responsibility for this lamentable deed in which human lives were lost,″ De Leon told grieving families during a visit to the massacre site.
Associated Press Television footage showed mourners kneeling at the feet of their relatives as flies buzzed over the day-old corpses.
De Leon said the nation’s 34-year civil war, which pits the Guatemalan army against rebels of the Guatemalan National Revolutionary Unity, has created a tense climate that engenders human rights abuses.
But the massacre may endanger ongoing peace talks with rebels and the repatriation of thousands of refugees, human rights leaders said Friday.
Government troops threw grenades and fired at a refugee settlement community about 80 miles north of the capital Thursday, killing ten people, including two children. At least 18 others were injured.
The refugees had returned to Guatemala one year ago.
``We believe this puts the peace process at grave risk and shows the lack of willingness on the army’s part to sign an eventual peace agreement,″ Ricardo Curtz told The Associated Press.
The 34-year civil war, the longest in Central America, has claimed more than 100,000 lives and created at least 45,000 refugees.
``This massacre, shows once again who has the real power in Guatemala. How can peace be consolidated if there is no democracy?″ Curtz asked.
Guatemalan President Ramiro de Leon Carpio ordered an immediate investigation and sent a commission to the area.
Peace talks between the government and guerrillas are scheduled to reopen in Puebla, Mexico, next week.
Although progress has been slow, four major accords were signed this year to set up a commission to investigate past human rights abuses, recognize indigenous rights, respect internal refugees and returned exiles and establish a U.N. body to monitor peace accords.
Despite the killings, the rebels said Friday they are willing to continue talks.
The U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees continued to evacuate the wounded by helicopter Friday.
Rosanda Sales Ortiz, 30, who had shrapnel wounds in her right foot, said 30 soldiers interrupted a Thursday afternoon celebration of the first anniversary of the some refugees’ return.
``We told them we don’t want armed people here, not the government army or guerrillas. They got mad and began shooting at the people,″ she told The Associated Press.
Sales, one of 15,000 refugees who decided to return from 12 years of exile in Mexico, now doubts others will want to come back.
``We came back because they said there was peace but look, there are still massacres going on,″ she said.
Minister of Defense Mario Enriquez claimed the soldiers acted in self-defense, saying villagers attacked and disarmed some soldiers after inviting them into the community.
Plans to repatriate some 200 refugee families living in Chiapas, Mexico later this month have been frozen because of the massacre.