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Friday, 12 May, 2000, 01:53 GMT 02:53 UK
Guatemala reveals military files
Bishop Gerardi
Slain Bishop Gerardi's name was in the files
By Central America correspondent Mike Lanchin

The Guatemalan Government's human rights office has released files containing more than 650,000 names of people who were considered by the military as posing a threat to the state.

The files, which span more than two decades, had been turned over to state prosecutors by the new head of the presidential intelligence gathering unit in line with a more open-door policy.

Among the names on the list is that of a Roman Catholic bishop, Juan Gerardi, a veteran human rights campaigner, who was murdered two years ago, allegedly by members of the military establishment.

Few clues

Lines formed from early morning at the offices of the human rights ombudsman in the capital as people arrived to find out if their names were included on the military's secret files.

Those who did manage to find their names among the thick wad of documents were then allowed to peer at a database of the entries on one of the three computers set up for the public.

The undated entries show no more than a person's name, date of birth and a coded cross-reference, giving away few clues as to why they had been included.

But the inclusion of the names of Bishop Gerardi, and of Helen Mack, a controversial anthropologist murdered by a soldier in 1991, suggests that the records could have been used as a basis for political assassinations.

Powerful military

This is the first time that the public has been given access to such secretive information, just four years after the end of Guatemala's civil war.

It was the initiative of the new head of civilian intelligence, Edgar Gutierrez, himself a former human rights activist.

He said last week that he was releasing the documents to find out whether his name had been included.

Human rights groups have welcomed the move and said that the existence of the secret files confirms how the powerful military have tried to exert control over civilians.

Observers say that what remains to be seen is how the authorities now deal with the newly found information.

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29 Dec 97 | Despatches
Guatemala - a year after the peace
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