Guatemala City: The skeletal remains of 163 people massacred in one of the worst atrocities of Guatemala`s bloody civil war have been handed over to surviving relatives, officials said.
Families of victims of the 1982 Dos Erres massacre, in which 201 villagers died, wept as they shouldered wooden coffins containing their loved ones and took them to a local cemetery, yesterday.
The massacre, which unfolded in Dos Erres between December 6 and 8, 1982 during the decades-long civil war, occurred under the military regime of former dictator Efrain Rios Montt, who faces trial for genocide.
The killings happened when the army sought to recover 40 guns that a guerrilla unit stole the previous October. Dos Erres was targeted because the villagers were suspected of sympathising with guerrillas.
The exhumation of the victims also provided evidence in the trial of five soldiers who were involved in the incident and sentenced to 6,000 years in prison, even though Guatemala`s maximum sentence is 50 years.
The conviction was the first in Guatemalan history against the military, although 12 members of the patrol linked to the massacre remain at large.
Another soldier linked to the killings, Jorge Sosa, was arrested in the United States for lying to immigration authorities there and could be repatriated to Guatemala for trial.
A UN-sponsored truth commission documented 669 massacres during the civil war, of which 626 were attributed to state forces. The majority were committed during a brief but particularly gruesome stretch under Rios Montt and the de facto government of Oscar Mejia Victores from 1982 to 1986.
The Guatemalan conflict, which began in 1960, dragged on for 36 years and left around 200,000 people dead or missing, according to a 1999 UN-sponsored report.