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Tuesday, 28 April, 1998, 10:27 GMT 11:27 UK
US calls for Guatemala murder inquiry
The bishop's body lying in state before burial
The United States has called for a full investigation of the brutal killing of a 75-year-old bishop in Guatemala.

Bishop Juan Gerardi was a prominent human rights campaigner and his death on Sunday is thought to be linked to a report he compiled on human rights abuses and the human cost of Guatemala's 36-year-long civil war.

"The Department of State deplores this senseless act of violence, particularly against a bishop who has long defended the rights of all and who stood for national reconciliation," said spokesman James Foley, offering US government assistance in any way possible.

UN secretary general Kofi Annan also condemned the murder "in the strongest terms."

"This is an incredible blow for the entire country", said Ronalth Ochaeta, coordinator of the Catholic Church's human rights activities in Guatemala.

He went on to demand a prompt investigation of the murder.

Hundreds of mourners surrounded the cathedral
Hundreds of mourners surrounded the cathedral
"If in 72 hours there is not a response, or an explanation of his death, the responsibility for his death will fall on the government."

Guatemala's president, Alvaro Arzu, announced three days of national mourning and said he was forming a high-level commission to investigate the killing.

"We will put our best effort" into solving this crime, he said, but rejected the 72-hour deadline Mr Ochaeta demanded.

"I wish we could solve it quickly, but how can you know?"

Army implicated in civilian killings

The human rights report the bishop released last week, entitled "Never Again" said most of the 50,000 civilians killed in Guatemala's recent civil war died at the hands of the army.

An army spokeswoman "categorically rejected" any involvement in the bishop's murder.

She said, "the death of Bishop Gerardi has had a great impact" within the army and said it would cooperate in efforts to solve the murder.

The civil war ended in a peace accord signed by the rightist government and leftist rebels in December 1996.

Bishop Juan Gerardi Conedera at a press conference a few days before his death
Bishop Juan Gerardi Conedera at a press conference a few days before his death
In the 1980s Gerardi was bishop of the archdiocese of Quiche, in northern Guatemala, where some of the worst human rights abuses by the army took place.

He made many enemies in military and right-wing circles for his constant criticism of human rights abuses by authorities.

One prominent human rights activist who declined to give his name said that the murder was "a clear message" that death squads "continue to operate in the country and do not want the truth to be known."

BBC News
Alice Jay, of the Roman Catholic Institute of International Affairs on the significance of the report (1'39)
BBC News
The BBC's Guatemala correspondent - "a sense of outrage amongst the deeply religious people" (1'44")
See also:

29 Dec 97 | Despatches
Guatemala - a year after the peace
27 Apr 98 | Despatches
Church documents Guatamalan atrocities
27 Apr 98 | Americas
Guatemalan bishop murdered
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