Nobel prize winner Menchu on trial for treason

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Nobel Peace Prize laureate Rigoberta Menchu appeared in court in Guatemala City yesterday to answer charges of treason, after she sought to bring a genocide case against the country's former military dictators.

Last December, Ms Menchu filed papers for a private prosecution in the Spanish High Court over accusations of genocide against three former Guatemalan leaders and five of their senior aides.

In response, General Oscar Humberto Mejia Victores, a former dictator singled out by Ms Menchu, launched a counterclaim for treason in a Guatemalan court.

Ms Menchu appeared before the attorney general yesterday to answer the charge and said it should be dropped because it lacked any foundation.

"I'm here to fulfil the laws of my country," she said, adding that she had tried to obtain justice through the Guatemalan legal system but had been thwarted. The attorney general now has to decide whether to proceed with the case.

In March, the Spanish judge in the case, Guillermo Ruiz Polanco, ruled in favour of Ms Menchu's application to investigate the allegations of genocide, torture and terrorism. Those under scrutiny include the former dictator Efrain Rios Montt, now president of the Guatemalan congress.

Julio Cintron, a lawyer acting for Mejia Victores, accused Ms Menchu of betraying her country and damaging state institutions. "She violated the constitution in underestimating the Guatemalan courts to seek justice in Spain," he said.

Ms Menchu's case could give Spanish courts another opportunity to bring former Latin American military rulers to trial after failing to win the extradition of the former Chilean dictator, General Augusto Pinochet, from Britain.

"I have sought justice for myself and my family since 1993," Ms Menchu said yesterday. "They didn't listen. My action in Spain is part of the struggle."