A Guatemalan court has handed down the country’s first conviction of a leftist guerilla leader for the killings of indigenous farmers during the 1960-1996 civil war.
Fermin Solano got 90 years in prison for ordering a group of 10 guerillas to strangle and kill in the town of El Aguacate 22 pro-government indigenous farmers, accusing them of collaborating with the army.
The massacre took place between November 22 and November 25, 1988.
“This court finds that defendant Fermin Solano is responsible for the offence of continuous murder and crimes against humanity,” Judge Walter Jimenez said before a courtroom packed with relatives and journalists in the city of Chimaltenango, about 80 kilometres outside Guatemala City.
Solano’s family prayed and sobbed, while the defendant appeared emotionless in a grey shirt in a pants, and the judge emphasised the “right to the truth” of the victims’ relatives, who suffered “psychological trauma.”
Solano, known under the pseudonym “Lieutenant David,” was found to have acted without the consent of senior guerilla leaders in executing the native Indians.
Three former guerilla commanders were questioned in the case against Solano, who belonged to the now-defunct Revolutionary Organisation of Armed People, or ORPA, one of four factions during the war.
The prosecution presented some 90 exhibits, 29 witnesses and about 14 experts.
“The people have a right to the truth, so this does not go unpunished and will not happen again,” said the judge.
No relatives of the victims or representatives of humanitarian organisations were present in the courtroom.
Prosecutors had sought a sentence of 690 years for Solano, but the court dismissed such a move as “cruel and inhumane.”
Solano, whose trial began on February 27, pleaded not guilty and demanded his release.
Captured in May 2013 in Guatemala City, the ex-rebel leader is the first former guerilla member to be convicted over murders perpetrated during the 36-year civil war.
The war left 200,000 people dead or missing, according to a United Nations report.
It blamed 93 per cent of human rights violations on state forces and three per cent on the guerillas, without identifying the rest.