Bishop'sdeath: general accused

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The Independent Online
GUATEMALA'S NEW Defence Minister, General Marco Tunio Espinosa, and two other top military officers have been accused of masterminding the murder of the country's leading Catholic bishop last year.

Bishop Juan Gerardi was found crushed to death in his garage in April 1998. Two days before, he had published a human rights report, blaming the armed forces for most of the human rights abuses committed during Guatemala's 36-year war between the security forces and left-wing insurgents.

Charges against General Espinosa, Colonel Rudy Pozuelos, head of the presidential guard, and Major Juan Escobar, have been filed by a former judge after he conducted a private investigation. Juan Carlos Solis said information against the men had come from two military officers. It is the first time such senior officials have been directly accused of involvement in the killing. According to newspaper reports, General Espinosa is due to be sworn in as Guatemala's Defence Minister later this week.

The bishop's death appalled Guatemalans and Alvaro Arzu, president at the time, declared three days of public mourning.

Flags were flown at half mast in the capital, Guatemala City, and thousands attended the funeral. The Pope sent a message expressing his revulsion while the US State Department demanded an inquiry.

But from the start, human rights and church groups suspected that the president's official inquiry was a cover-up that would never dare point an accusing finger at members of the influential military establishment. Their suspicions were confirmed when the official inquiry promptly accused two alcoholics with records for petty crime of responsibility for the killing.