Massacre unit trained by British

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The Independent Online

Guatemalan soldiers who massacred 10 former refugees and wounded scores more earlier this month belonged to a unit that was trained by British troops. Ammunition the unit used could also have been British.

In a written reply to a parliamentary question from the Labour MP Jeremy Corbyn, Nicholas Soames, junior defence minister, confirmed that "a UK training team based in Puerto Rico trained a Guatemalan contingent preparing to take part in the multi-national force in Haiti".

The Guatemalan force in Haiti was drawn from the Kaibiles, a force known for its gross and persistent violations of human rights in the 40- year Guatemalan civil war, which has claimed 150,000 victims. Given their reputation, the use of the Kaibiles in Haiti last year was received privately with disgust by United Nations staff in Port-au-Prince.

News of British involvement with the Kaibiles also undermines the argument offered to British critics of military involvement with Guatemala by the Foreign Office in the sense that exposure to the best British military practice would improve the human-rights record of Guatemala's army.

The 26-man platoon that killed the refugees - Mayan Indians celebrating the first anniversary of their return from asylum in Mexico - at Xaman, in Alta Verpaz department, was also drawn from the Kaibiles, and was commanded by Second Lieutenant Camilo Antonio Lacan. The men of the platoon have been charged with murder.

Boutros Boutros-Ghali, the UN Secretary-General, urged an investigation and punishment of the guilty, sentiments echoed by the European Union. The Guatemalan Defence Minister, Mario Enriquez, resigned and the local commander was replaced. Yesterday the Department of Trade and Industry disclosed that Britain had resumed arms exports to Guatemala, suspended in the 1970s, when neighbouring Belize was a British colony claimed by Guatemala.