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Relatives of missing occupy cathedral

November 1, 1985

GUATEMALA CITY (AP) _ About 150 relatives of missing people took over the Metropolitan Cathedral on Thursday, locked themselves inside and vowed to stay there until the military government accounts for their loved ones.

Nineth de Garcia, founder of Mutual Support, an organization for the relatives of the missing, was in the group. The men, women and children entered the Roman Catholic cathedral in the center of the city, asked the few other people inside to leave, then locked the massive wooden doors.

″We came here and we will stay here until we get an answer from the government. We want to know what happened to our relatives. That is why we are here and we are not coming out,″ she said, opening a door slightly to talk to a reporter.

A three-man committee agreed Thursday night to mediate with the government, and met with leaders of the protest. The members are Vinicio Cerezo, the Christian Democratic Party presidential candidate; Msgr. Oriano Quilici, the papal nuncio, and university rector Eduardo Meyer Maldonado.

Four leftist guerrilla organizations have fought a succession of military governments in Guatemala for three decades.

Thousands of people have been killed in the fighting, or murdered by rebels or right-wing death squads supporting the military. Many others disappeared, and are believed to have been kidnapped by government security agents or killed by death squads.

The U.S. Embassy says 564 civilians were killed in political violence last year and 435 disappeared.

Mutual Support seized the cathedral three days before the first presidential election in 16 years without a military candidate. The military has said it will give way to civilian rule Jan. 14.

Mrs. Garcia’s husband was kidnapped in 1983 and she founded Mutual Support 17 months ago.

The group demanded in a statement that that the government ″assume publicly the obligation to conduct an investigation about the whereabouts of our relatives. It can give us an answer before it turns over power to the new government on Jan. 14.

″We hope the government will assume a sensible, humane and just attitude in dealing with our demands,″ the statement said. ″We remind the government of what it said last November when it publicly acknowledged the participation of the security forces in this type of action (disappearances) .″

Mrs. Garcia and her companions admitted some reporters Thursday night for interviews.

She said they would remain in the cathedral until they had a firm commitment from the government to conduct the investigation. ″We want guarantees. ... We are here because we love our dear ones. The government has violated the law,″ she said.

The protesters, who included about 20 children, spent most of the time sitting silently or praying. Some children played quietly in the aisles.

″We spend our time praying. Each of us has a relative missing. Some have two or three,″ Herlindo Icho Aquino said. He said his daughter Irma Marilu, 24, was kidnapped by government security agents outside San Carlos University in May 1984.

The people came from all over Guatemala, and friends had brought them food, said Icho Aquino, one of the group.

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