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Guatemala: Editor attacked as political violence increases

Amnesty International UK Director Kate Allen said:

'The human rights situation in Guatemala is at crisis point. The international community must take urgent steps to halt the cycle of political violence.

'There is a real danger that the country is returning to the ruthless violence and killings of its long-term civil conflict.'

In one recent incident Rubén Zamora, editor of a major Guatemalan newspaper, was attacked in his home the day after he published an article alleging corruption amongst high level officials of the current administration. He described his twelve assailants as having military demeanour, and believed they were acting on behalf of the ruling government party, the Frente Republicano Guatemalteco (FRG).

The attack came the day after Zamora had published an opinion piece which charged the FRG's presidential candidate, General Efraín Ríos Montt, with being an integral part of the so-called 'parallel power structure'. Zamora said this structure had not only run the country for the last twenty years, but also headed up the country's extensive organised crime network.

Kate Allen said: 'The democratic process has been seriously undermined by General Montt's refusal to revoke his candidacy. Not only is his candidacy prohibited under the Guatemalan constitution because of his earlier involvement in a coup, but he is also facing suits for genocide and other crimes against humanity in both Guatemala and abroad.'

'General Montt recently insisted on visiting rural communities on the very day that villagers were reburying relatives massacred under his scorched earth policies of the early 1980s. This led directly to pitched battles between peasant communities and FRG candidates.'

The conflicts in the countryside and the attack on Zamora comes in the wake of other election-related violence throughout the country. In Chiquimula Department alone, six activists of one opposition political party were killed in the past four months, apparent victims of former military commissioners affiliated to the FRG.

Foreign journalists and human rights workers were also attacked in incidents which observers say were the results of deliberate FRG provocation. A recent Amnesty International delegation was told that activists receive so many death threats that they consider them a routine part of daily life and no longer bother to denounce them.

The state's own human rights officials have also been attacked. On 11 June, Josué Israel López, the Auxiliary Human Rights Procurator for Chimaltenango Department, a prominent indigenous lawyer, was killed. The Attorney General's Special Investigator named to investigate abuses against human rights defenders and her assistant then both received warnings, telling them to discontinue their investigations of the murder or they would get a 'surprise'.

Kate Allen said: 'The recommendations of the Consultative Group of major donor countries and institutions to the Guatemalan peace process must be implemented. These recommendations included human rights areas where the Group said it had to see progress if co-operation monies were to continue.'

These included a demand that the human rights situation be improved, citizen security concerns be addressed and impunity confronted, including through ensuring that justice is done for past atrocities.

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