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Guatemala Jails Ex-Paramilitary Troopers Over Civil War Massacre

A court in Guatemala on Tuesday sentenced five former members of a right-wing paramilitary unit to 7710 years each in prison for their involvement in a 1982 massacre of 256 Indians during the country's civil war.

They were accused of leading the Army to the northern Guatemalan village of Plan de Sanchez on July 18, 1982, and taking part in the ensuing massacre. Many of the victims were women and children.

Each of the five convicted soldiers were awarded a sentence of 30 years for each of the 256 Indians killed in the massacre, plus 30 for crimes against humanity. The court noted that the group acted with "wickedness and cruelty" toward their victims.

The rural community of Achi Maya Indians who inhabited the village of Plan de Sanchez in Rabinal municipality were suspected of assisting left-wing guerillas. The massacre took place during the 1982-1983 regime of former dictator Efrain Rios Montt.

All the five sentenced were members of the Patrullas de Autodefensa Civil, a right-wing civilian militia which fought alongside the Army against leftist rebels during the civil war. The 1982 massacre at Plan de Sanchez was one of the 600 such civil war atrocities documented by a United Nations Truth Commission.

Earlier this week, a former Guatemalan soldier was sentenced to 6,060 years in prison for his active involvement in the 1982 massacre of more than 200 people in the village of Dos Erres. Pedro Pimentel Rios, 54, was extradited from the United States last July to stand trial in his home country.

Pimentel was the fifth former Guatemalan soldier to be convicted for the 1982 killings in the village of Dos Erres. The four other former Guatemalan soldiers were convicted last year over their roles in the massacre. They also received similar sentences as that of Pimentel.

Further, a court in January ruled that former military leader, Efrain Rios Montt, must face trial for genocide and crimes against humanity committed during the civil war. Montt, who was in power from 1982-1983 when some of the worst civil war atrocities occurred, has denied ordering any massacres.

The 36-year-long civil war from 1960 to 1996 killed almost a quarter of a million people in the South American nation before it ended. The Inter-American Court of Human Rights had ordered Guatemala to investigate and prosecute those involved in the massacres at Plan de Sanchez and Dos Erres in 2004 and 2009 respectively.

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