11 May 2013

Genocide denied by general

8:57 am on 11 May 2013

The former military leader of Guatemala has denied ordering the extermination of the Ixil ethnic group during his time in office.

General Efrain Rios Montt, 86, protested his innocence on Thursday at the end of his trial on genocide charges. It was the first time he had spoken during the court proceedings.

He said there was no evidence he had ordered the extermination of the Ixil ethnic group during his time in office, in 1982 - 1983.

"I have never ordered genocide," General Rios Montt told the tribunal of three judges in Guatemala City.

"I am innocent. I never had the intent to destroy any national race, religion, or ethnic group."

Speaking for nearly an hour, he argued that as president he was in charge of maintaining the integrity of the national territory of Guatemala rather than overseeing the civil war at a local level.

"The commanding officer in charge of the units in the El Quiche region is accountable for the actions," he said.

General Jose Mauricio Rodriguez Sanchez, the former head of military intelligence, is on trial also.

Mr Rodriguez also protested his innocence and asked to be freed after "19 months of unfair detention".

Prosecutors said the two generals wanted to wipe out the Ixil group, which they suspected of supporting rebel fighters.

They have asked that both men be sentenced to 75 years in prison.

The trial has been beset with delays, legal loopholes and a temporary suspension.

The BBC reports an estimated 200,000 people were killed in the civil war, the majority of them indigenous Mayans.