New Guatemala leader calls for 'justice' against war-era officers


Guatemala City (AFP)

Guatemala's new president, Jimmy Morales, said Friday he wants "justice, not revenge" meted out to ex-army personnel accused of atrocities during his country's 1960-1996 civil war.

Following an armed forces ceremony recognizing him as commander-in-chief just one day after he was sworn in, Morales added that he did not want to see action that would "prejudice" the country's values.

"What I want, as do all Guatemalans, is that justice be done -- but justice, not revenge," he said, answering questions by reporters.

Eighteen retired soldiers were detained last week on accusations of participation in massacres of indigenous people and in the disappearance of a boy during the civil war.

Among them figure Benedicto Lucas Garcia, the armed forces chief during the 1978-1982 presidency of his brother Fernando Romeo Lucas Garcia, who ruled over the darkest years of the conflict.

A lawmaker who helped found Morales' party, former officer Edgar Ovalle, is also implicated in the atrocities. Prosecutors have asked that his parliamentary immunity be lifted so he can face charges.

Guatemala's long civil war resulted in 200,000 people killed or registered as missing, according to the United Nations, which attributed more than 90 percent of the atrocities committed to the armed forces.

During the military ceremony Friday, Morales announced that he was giving the army the task of rebuilding 8,000 kilometers (5,000 miles) of roads in rural parts of the country.

The decision cuts out private contractors that had traditionally been given funds to carry out such work.