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Sunday 11 December 2016

Genocide charge trial of Guatemala ex-dictator Efrain Rios Montt delayed

Published 24/07/2015 | 01:57

Jose Efrain Rios Montt will spend nine days being evaluated in a psychiatric hospital (AP)
Jose Efrain Rios Montt will spend nine days being evaluated in a psychiatric hospital (AP)

Former Guatemala dictator Efrain Rios Montt has been put in a psychiatric hospital for nine days' observation, delaying his possible retrial on genocide charges.

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The court order seeks to evaluate the 89-year-old ex-general's mental and physical health following a report that found him incompetent to stand trial. He is said to suffer from advanced dementia.

Prosecutors accuse Rios Montt of responsibility for the killing of 1,771 Mayan Ixil people at the hands of the army during his 1982-83 regime.

He was convicted and sentenced to 80 years in prison in 2013, but the verdict was overturned by a higher court. A retrial was postponed this January after his lawyers won a motion for one of the judges to remove herself from the case.

The retrial had been scheduled to begin yesterday.

The court said its ruling aims to protect Rios Montt's health and was based on a public ministry request as well as a report presented by the defence that found him incompetent to stand trial.

The order seeks to evaluate his mental and physical state after it was established that his doctor has prescribed him psychiatric drugs. It ordered that his medical records be seized and a urine sample be taken within three hours to determine the nature of the medication.

Rios Montt was not present for the hearing. Images from a camera at his house showed him lying on a bed underneath a white sheet.

A recent medical report from Guatemala's national institute of forensic sciences said Rios Montt is unable to understand the charges against him or contribute to his defence, raising doubts about whether the retrial would move ahead.

It described Rios Montt as "prostrate and motionless in bed" under the effects of medication, with a clouded awareness and in a near stupor. He responds only to intense stimuli such as loud speaking or physical touch, the report said.

Anselmo Roldan, president of the justice and reconciliation association that represents victims of the conflict, questioned whether Rios Montt's unresponsive state could be due to the medication rather than infirmity.

"We see that they have no desire for this trial to continue," Mr Roldan said.

Jose Rodriguez, who was Rios Montt's intelligence chief, is also accused in the case.

According to a UN report, about 245,000 people died or disappeared during Guatemala's 1960-96 civil war. The army and paramilitary groups are blamed for nearly all the killings.

Press Association

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