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Saturday, 22 January, 2000, 09:14 GMT
Two arrested over Guatemala bishop murder

bishop's coffin The bishop's body lay in state before the funeral

By BBC correspondent Mike Lanchin

Police in Guatemala have arrested two army officers, a father and a son, in connection with the 1998 murder of a leading Roman Catholic bishop and veteran human rights campaigner.

Retired Colonel Israel Lima Estrada and his son, Captain Byron Lima Oliva, were taken into custody in what is the most important development in the lengthy investigation.

The two had long been mentioned as possible suspects in the killing of Bishop Gerardi, who was bludgeoned to death on the doorstep of his parish home.

The veteran human rights campaigner had released a damning report into widespread army abuses during the country's long civil war two days before his death.

His murder is widely believed to have been a reprisal from army officers angered at his work.

But until this week the 20-month investigation into the killing had floundered against innumerable obstacles - a lack of clear evidence and a wall of silence from within the military.

Witnesses in exile

In the course of the inquiry, a judge, a prosecuting attorney and several key witnesses were all forced to flee for their lives into exile abroad.

But when he took office just a week ago, Guatemala's new President, Alfonso Portillo, made a special point of promising to solve what he termed a national outrage.

Although no-one expected him to move so quickly, observers believed that Mr Portillo's right-wing party's links to the army would help him flush out the culprits.

But Colonel Lima and his son obviously did not act alone.

Among the four other people named in arrest warrants are other serving army officers and, curiously, a Roman Catholic priest who shared the dead bishop's house.

The priest had been detained for six months but was released last year for lack of evidence.

Now, having made a new breakthrough in this test case for Guatemalan justice, analysts say that this time round the authorities must make their charges stick.

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See also:
27 Apr 98 |  Americas
Guatemalan bishop murdered
28 Apr 98 |  Americas
US calls for Guatemala murder inquiry
29 Apr 98 |  Americas
Huge crowds attend funeral of murdered bishop
29 Dec 97 |  Despatches
Guatemala - a year after the peace
25 Apr 98 |  Despatches
Church documents Guatamalan atrocities
30 Apr 98 |  Americas
'Death threats' against Guatemalan archbishop

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