Children were routinely kidnapped by army in Guatemalan war

Click to follow
The Independent US

The Guatemalan army routinely abducted children, including babies, during the country's 36-year civil war that ended in 1996, says a report issued by the archdiocese of Guatemala's Human Rights Office (ODHA).

The Guatemalan army routinely abducted children, including babies, during the country's 36-year civil war that ended in 1996, says a report issued by the archdiocese of Guatemala's Human Rights Office (ODHA).

The children, mostly Maya Indians, became standard booty during the brutal conflict, which destroyed hundreds of communities and killed 200,000 Guatemalans.

Only three of 444 missing children have been reunited with their families and now there are plans to investigate whether any of the others is still alive. Many more cases are expected to come to light as the church's investigation proceeds, and there is speculation that these military kidnappings might be one root of the lucrative black market adoption rings that now plague this Central American country.

Based on interviews by Roman Catholic clerics with parents and relatives of 86 children, the 200-page document blames the military for 92 per cent of the forced disappearances. Although some families became separated while fleeing from gun battles,and 5 per cent of the pre-school age children were abducted by leftists and pro-government paramilitaries, the remainder of the kidnappings appear to have been part of a deliberate policy of military repression against Indian villages in the western highlands that gave refuge to rebels throughout the Eighties.

"What we have is the confirmation ... that forced disappearance was used as an instrument of war against those most vulnerable, the children, and they were used for military ends," said Nery Rodenas, the ODHA director. After one abduction, military helicopters dropped leaflets showing the face of a captured nine-year-old recovering in hospital and promising safety to any villagers who surrendered.

Few of the poor Maya families had the resources to search for their missing children; others feared reprisals to their communities if they dared to voice a complaint.

A similar inquiry across the border in El Salvador documented 520 cases of children who vanished during that country's 12-year civil war, which ended in 1992.

"This report aims to prevent such instances of pain and suffering from occurring again in Guatemala," said the office's coordinator, Bishop Mario Rios Montt. The bishop's brother is General Efrain Rios Montt, the strongman whose 1982-83 military dictatorship has been denounced by human rights groups for thousands of atrocities and disappearances.

A spokesman for Guatemala's armed forces promised full co-operation with any inquiry. "We have nothing to hide," said Captain Jose Valladares. Under the terms of the 1996 truce, atrocities committed by all sides must be investigated.

Comments