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Friday, 23 March, 2001, 01:26 GMT
Guatemala bishop murder trial halted
Guatemala trial
Security was extremely tight for Thursday's hearing
A judge in Guatemala has adjourned the trial of three army officers accused of killing leading human rights activist Bishop Juan Gerardi until Friday.

Opening arguments were delayed twice on Thursday, with the late arrival of two defendants, the non-appearance of another, and a defence appeal to remove one of the judges.


With our past in Guatemala, many people think the army is automatically guilty

Defence lawyer
The trial is expected to resume at 0900 (1500 GMT) on Friday after a doctor has examined retired army Colonel Byron Lima Estrada, who failed to turn up reportedly due to heart problems.

In a BBC interview, a spokesman for the late Bishop's office accused the defendants of resorting to delaying tactics.

The hearing went ahead amid tight security and tension following a bomb attack on the home of one of the three presiding judges on Wednesday.

Windows were blown out but no one was injured when two explosive devices were thrown over the back wall of Judge Yasmin Barrios's property in Guatemala City on Wednesday night.

Intimidation

Judge Barrios said the timing of the attack was no coincidence and said it was another attempt to intimidate her into resigning.

Bishop Gerardi
Bishop Gerardi: Battered to death in 1998
Last Friday, unidentified gunmen tried to break into her house but were scared off by a passing police car.

The judge suggested that the defence may be behind the campaign of intimidation.

In response, defence lawyers launched an unsucessful appeal for her removal from the panel, saying such remarks showed a lack of impartiality.

"I don't think any military guy can get a fair trial here," said defence lawyer Roberto Echeiverra.

He added: "With our past in Guatemala, many people think the army is automatically guilty."

Threats

Ms Barrios is one of a panel of judges who will preside over the trial of five people, including three military officers, for the murder of Bishop Gerardi.

He was killed shortly after releasing a report blaming the former military governments of Guatemala for most of the killings during the country's civil war.

An estimated 200,000 people, mostly indigenous civilians, were killed in the 36-year conflict. No one has ever been brought to trial for the killings.

Human rights groups here hope that it will pave the way for bringing other cases against the military and paramilitary groups for atrocities committed during the civil war that ended in 1996.

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See also:

12 May 00 | Americas
Guatemala reveals military files
04 May 00 | Americas
Guatemala Indians sue for 'genocide'
29 Dec 97 | Despatches
Guatemala - a year after the peace
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