Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Guatemala scans police archive for civil war clues

Information long hidden in police archives covered with mold and bat droppings could implicate hundreds of former officers accused of killing students and leftists during Guatemala's 36-year civil war, according to human rights activists.

Sergio Morales, the Guatemalan government human rights ombudsman, on Tuesday is set to release the first report on the contents of 80 million documents unearthed four years ago that dated from the 1960-96 conflict.

Human rights activists have expressed hope that information from the archives will lead authorities to arrest hundreds of former police officers who may be implicated in crimes committed during a civil war in which around 250,000 people were killed or disappeared.

Two former members of a police unit linked to death squads that operated during the civil war were detained this month based on evidence from the archive.

Human rights workers discovered the dusty floor-to-ceiling stacks of papers in 2005 when they went into a rat-infested munitions depot in Guatemala City to investigate complaints by nearby residents about old explosives stored there.

The government gave the human rights ombudsman permission to investigate the archives from a civil war-era police force so linked to repression and disappearances that it was dissolved in 1997 after leftist guerrillas and security forces signed a peace agreement.

Archivists have cleaned, scanned and filed some 11 million documents, scouring them for information from the conflict.

Read the rest of the Reuters story here.

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