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Page last updated at 09:47 GMT, Tuesday, 1 September 2009 10:47 UK

Guatemala sees landmark sentence

People dig in search of mass graves as forensic anthropologists work nearby to exhume the skeletons of nine men in the Quiche region - photo from  August 2009
Work to find the victims of the war goes on

A Guatemalan court has sentenced an ex-paramilitary officer to 150 years in prison for the forced disappearance of civilians in the civil war.

Felipe Cusanero, found guilty over the disappearance in the 1980s of six indigenous Maya farmers, is the first person to be jailed for such crimes.

Human rights groups have hailed the verdict as a breakthrough in the fight against impunity in Guatemala.

Some 250,000 people were killed in the 36-year conflict, which ended in 1996.

The court in Chimaltenango, about 40km (25 miles) west of Guatemala City, was packed as the judges read their verdict and sentence - 25 years for each victim.

Cusanero was found guilty in connection with the disappearances of six people in the Chimaltenango region between 1982 and 1984.

At the time, which was the height of the long-running civil war between government forces and left-wing guerrillas, he was a military commissioner, a civilian working with the army.

"We weren't looking for vengeance but for the truth and justice," Hilarion Lopez, whose 24-year-old son was taken by soldiers in 1984 and never seen again, told Reuters news agency.

Rights groups believe Cusanero was involved in the disappearances of more people but only six families came forward to testify against him.

A UN-backed truth commission found that between 1960 and 1996 some 200,000 people were killed and more than 45,000 disappeared.

Most of those who died were civilians.



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