UK to arm Guatemala regime of terror

Hugh O'Shaughnessy reports on British plans to equip and train troops notorious for massacres
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The Independent Online
Britain is training military personnel from Guatemala, the largest and most powerful of the Central American republics, which has one of the worst human rights records in the world.

A Foreign Office spokesman also confirmed yesterday that Britain has lifted a ban on sales of military equipment to Guatemala.

The Government sees the possibility of important sales of arms and counter- insurgency equipment in a large market which has for years been supplied from Israel, Guatemala's staunchest ally.

The news of Britain's military involvement in Guatemala comes as new details filter out of the latest in the Guatemalan army's long catalogue of massacres. On 5 October, at Xamn in the department of Alta Verapaz, a patrol of 26 soldiers killed 10 former refugees who had recently returned from Mexico, seriously wounding 15 more and leaving a score of others suffering less extensive injuries. They were members of the indigenous Maya community, who form the majority in Guatemala but have been the principal victims of a little-reported war which has killed an estimated 150,000 people over the past 40 years. The killing has produced a protest from the UN Secretary-General and the resignation of the Defence Minister, General Mario Enrquez.

"The proposed training is very minor and developmental," said the Foreign Office spokesman. He would not reveal the number of soldiers who would undergo training in Britain or in Guatemala, but added: "We are supporting the peace process."

The Guatemalan government and guerrilla groups are holding talks in Mexico City, aimed at bringing about social reform in the deeply divided country and halting the decades of hostilities.

In August, the Foreign Office announced help to the Guatemalan police, but denied reports of British military aid. Edmundo Nanne, the Guate-malan ambassador to Britain, confirmed yesterday that an army colonel and naval and police officers were receiving training in Britain. A military cadet is starting at the Royal Military Academy, Sandhurst.

The British action has been greeted with disquiet by Amnesty International and other human rights groups. They point out that the United States has halted aid and military sales because of Guatemala's record, which also has entangled the Central Intelligence Agency in a continuing scandal in Washington.

"The measure is not supporting but undermining peace in Guatemala," said Lord Avebury, chairman of the Parliamentary Human Rights Group. The Government, he added, was breaking the 1993 declaration of the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe, banning the sale of arms that could be used for internal repression or could exacerbate existing conflicts.

The British decision comes after a senior British diplomat and a police adviser visited the region recently for discussions with the Guatemalan authorities, who for decades were in armed confrontation with Britain over neighbouring British Honduras, now Belize. Last month John Deutch, the newly appointed head of the CIA, took the rare step of dismissing two of his senior staff, Terry Ward and Fred Brugger, and disciplining seven more for their involvement in some of the more murderous activities of the Guatemalan forces.

Colonel Julio Alprez of the Guatemalan army, who had been trained by the US army and given a $44,000 payoff on leaving the CIA payroll, was found to have murdered a US citizen, Michael Devine, in 1990 in northern Guatemala.

Col Alpirez also was found responsible for the death under torture in 1992 of Efrain Bamaca, a guerrilla who was married to an American lawyer, Jennifer Harbury.

CIA staff kept their involvement and knowledge from Ms Harbury till she forced it out of them after staging a hunger strike outside the White House.

Although US military aid to Guatemala was formally ended in 1990, the CIA continued it until December 1993. Ms Harbury is suing the agency.