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Friday, 6 July, 2001, 11:37 GMT 12:37 UK
Guatemalan Maya bury their war dead
Guatemalan Maya going to mass burial
Coffins are brought for mass burial
Mayan villagers in one of the regions worst hit by Guatemala's three decades of civil war have buried the remains of 39 people allegedly killed by soldiers almost 20 years ago.

The burials took place on Thursday in Zacualpa, a village in the Quiche region where most of the inhabitants are from indigenous Maya groups.

In the early 1980s, the village church was used as an interrogation centre by soldiers carrying out a counter-insurgency campaign to root out guerrillas in the region.

More than 200,000 people, many of them Mayan peasants, were killed or disappeared during 36 years of violence, which ended with a peace agreement between the Guatemalan government and rebels in 1996.

One of the provisions of the peace deal was to discover what had happened to the victims of the civil war.

Since 1996, more than 150 excavations of mass graves have taken place.

Portillo in Washington

On his first official visit to Washington on Thursday, Guatemalan President Alfonso Portillo told US President George Bush his country was in a "healing process" on human rights matters.

Maya villager with coffin
Paying last respects
"What is most important is the executive is not standing in the middle to hinder the judicial process."

Ahead of the meeting, US National Security Council spokeswoman Mary Ellen Countryman praised Mr Portillo for his increased focus on human rights since being elected 18 months ago.

"President Portillo has taken courageous positions on issues that are important to the United States," she said.

Rights criticisms

Human rights groups have been critical of the lack of progress in implementing the 1996 peace accords, and continuing problems in Guatemala.

Human rights organisation Amnesty International has written an open letter to the two presidents, detailing allegations of recent human rights abuses in Guatemala.

Amnesty highlighted abuses "directed against the Guatemalan judiciary, journalists, and human rights workers, both Guatemalan and foreign in the past several months".

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05 Jul 01 | Americas
Guatemala rights urged
23 Mar 01 | Americas
Bishop's murder trial begins
12 May 00 | Americas
Guatemala reveals military files
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