GUATEMALA CITY – A Guatemalan court convened Wednesday for a fourth attempt to try former dictator Efrain Rios Montt on charges of genocide and crimes against humanity during the Central American nation’s long and bloody civil war.
No sooner was the tribunal called to order than attorneys filed motions that could delay the trial again. Defense lawyers sought to block the proceeding from beginning, while attorneys for victims argued that it should be split into two separate trials.
Judge Maria Eugenia Castellanos admonished lawyers on both sides for “resorting to formalities.”
Rios Montt, an 89-year-old ex-general who seized power in a coup and was de-facto president from 1982-83, is accused in the killings of nearly 2,000 indigenous Ixil Guatemalans by soldiers under his regime.
His former intelligence chief, Mauricio Rodriguez Sanchez, is a co-defendant.
Rios Montt was convicted at a previous trial in 2013 and given an 80-year prison sentence, but that was swiftly overturned on procedural grounds and a new trial ordered. Last year the case was postponed twice more by legal appeals.
The ex-general has been declared unfit for a regular trial due to dementia, so the special closed-door proceeding that opened Wednesday in the capital can determine his guilt or innocence but would not result in punishment for Rios Montt if he is convicted.
Victims’ lawyers want Rodriguez to be tried separately, arguing that his health situation is different from Rios Montt’s.
Rodriguez arrived in court leaning on a cane and said he would prove his innocence.
“The only thing I want is for this to be over soon so I can rejoin my family,” he said.
According to the United Nations, at least 245,000 people were killed or disappeared during Guatemala’s 1960-1996 civil war.