Massacre threatens peace process in Guatemala

Issue 

By Robyn Marshall On October 5, a group of 26 soldiers of the Guatemalan Army fired on unarmed returned refugees holding a meeting at Xam'an, in the state of Alta Verapaz. Between 10-30 were killed and 15-20 wounded, including a five year old girl, one of two children killed. Known as the community of "Aurora, 8th of October", the group had returned from Mexico a year ago on that date. The meeting was to prepare celebrations for the first anniversary of their return. Representatives from the Doctors of the World (a Spanish NGO) and the Rigoberta Menchu Tum Foundation were present. One of the wounded returnees brought to the capital, Guatemala City, said the soldiers were wandering around their village alarming the community. Community leaders politely asked them to leave but the soldiers said they had come for the celebration. They entered the housing area and, following a heated exchange, opened fire with high-calibre weaponry and fragmentation grenades. The soldiers continued to fire for 45 minutes as they left. The army claims the soldiers were invited by a group of women from the community but upon entering the village were surrounded by 300 hostile returnees who shouted insults at them, grabbed three of their rifles and started firing. The solders say they returned fire. Before the massacre, Xam'an had been one of the best examples of the integration of returnees into communities. The land they had been given was occupied by indigenous people and landless peasants so the returnees had invited them to become members of their cooperative. They began farming cardamon and other crops, and constructed the only health centre in the area, giving free medical attention to neighbouring communities. Guatemalan United Revolutionary Front (URNG) leader, Rigoberta Menchu, has denounced the National Army of Guatemala for the massacre and demanded a full investigation. The massacre could threaten the peace process as refugees may be frightened of returning to participate in the November elections, which a broad left coalition will be contesting for the first time. Guatemalan President Ramiro de Leon Carpio has promised a high level government investigation of the massacre. The National Coordinating Office on Refugees and Displaced of Guatemala (NCOORD) have asked for letters denouncing the massacre, demanding a full investigation and the prosecution of those responsible to be sent to: President Ramiro de Leon Carpio, Palacio Nacional, Guatemala (fax: 011502 2-515667) and to General Mario Enriquez Morales, Minister of Defence, Palacio Nacional Guatemala (fax: 011-502 2-21906). Copies should be sent to NCOORD, 59 E, Van Buren, Suite 1400 Chicago IL 60605 (email: ncoord@igc.apc.org, fax: 312 939 3272.

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