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Guatemala identifies victims from death squad ledger

GUATEMALA CITY (Reuters) - Guatemala on Tuesday identified a student leader and a labor leader who were captured, killed and buried in a mass grave in 1984 during the rule of President Oscar Mejia, who is facing charges of genocide.

Union leader Amancio Villatoro and student leader Sergio Linares are the first victims that scientists have matched to Guatemala’s military journal, a list of 183 citizens who disappeared at the hands of the army between 1983 and 1985.

The document, often referred to as the death squad diary, was declassified in 1999, but no victims listed in the journal had been identified until now.

Guatemala is still grappling with the legacy of the devastating 1960-1996 civil war.

The period covered by the diary followed the most brutal phase of the war until democracy was restored in 1986.

Around 250,000 people, mostly ethnic Maya, were killed or disappeared during the conflict. A United Nations truth commission found that 93 percent of wartime human rights violations were committed by the armed forces.

Racked by gang violence and marauding Mexican drug cartels, Guatemala this month elected retired general Otto Perez as president, the first military man to hold the post since 1986. He won after pledging to restore stability.

Perez will take office in January, just as the attorney general’s office has begun charging former leaders of the Guatemalan military for war crimes in a bid to fulfill key provisions set out during the 1996 peace accords.

The incoming president has pledged to allow prosecutors to continue their work, but rights groups have expressed concern that Perez may hamper investigations into his ex-comrades.

The bodies of Villatoro and Linares were exhumed in 2003 from a mass grave near a military base in Chimaltenango, west of the capital city. DNA tests undertaken to confirm their identity were not completed until this month.

“I feel sad and frustrated but at the same time happy that I’ve found my father’s remains,” said Sergio Villatoro, a 41-year-old son of the union leader. “My father was kidnapped on January 30, 1984, by the de facto government of Oscar Mejia.”

Mejia was arrested on charges of genocide in October, but deemed too ill to face trial. Investigators are waiting to examine Mejia again in the hope of bringing him to court.

Editing by Mohammad Zargham