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Former Guatemalan police chief sentenced over civil war attack

A former special investigations chief with Guatemala's national police has been sentenced to 90 years over an attack on the Spanish embassy during a protest in 1980, which left 37 people dead.

Pedro Garcia Arredendo was found guilty of homicide and crimes against humanity for his role in the raid on the building, which was occupied by indigenous people, peasants and students, during a protest in the country's 36-year long civil war.

The police chief, who denied the charges, ordered officers to prevent those in the mission from leaving as it burned down.

Among those killed in the fire were Vicente Menchu, the father of indigenous rights activist and winner of the 1992 Noble Peace Prize, Rigoberta Menchu, the Spanish consul and two Guatemalan politicians who had been visiting the embassy, former vice-president Eduardo Caceres Lenhoff and former foreign minister Adolfo Molina Orantes.

Amnesty International hailed the sentencing as a victory for the victims, however pointed out that other cases of rights violations remained to be resolved.

“It has taken three and a half decades, but justice has finally caught up with Pedro García Arredondo for the Spanish embassy attack. But these killings are just one example of the many committed by the Guatemalan authorities during the country’s protracted civil war,” said Erika Guevara Rosas, Americas Director at Amnesty International.

“We hope that other cases of serious human rights violations currently in Guatemala’s justice system, including that of Ríos Montt, are resolved in a timely manner that provides justice, truth and reparation to the many thousands of other victims and survivors of the conflict’s abuses,” she said.

Protestors chose the Spanish embassy to highlight massacres committed on rural inhabitants as they thought Spanish officals would be sympathetic to their cause. The court indeed found that Ambassador Maximo Cajal y Lopez, who was one of only two survivors, was aware of the plans to occupy the building.

The other survivor, local activist Gregorio Yuja was abducted from hospital and tortured to death.

Mr Arredendo was sentenced to 40 years for the deaths during the embassy siege and another 50 years for the deaths of two students at a funeral of victims of the siege. He will only have to serve 30 years, because that length was the maximum limit to a jail sentence during the time of the crimes.