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Tuesday, 8 August, 2000, 04:32 GMT 05:32 UK
Guatemala army 'seized children'
Forensic experts examine civil war graves
Villagers were killed, their children were taken away
By Mike Lanchin

The Roman Catholic church in Guatemala has accused the country's army of kidnapping hundreds of Mayan Indian children during the country's brutal 36-year civil war which ended peacefully in 1996.

Releasing a 200-page report on Monday, the Catholic Church's human rights office said that more than 400 cases of kidnappings had been documented so far, but the final figure could rise as more information is collected.

The army is blamed for more than 90% of the kidnappings, while left-wing guerrillas that fought to overthrow the government are blamed for only 2%.

In 1998, a United Nations-supported truth commission recommended the establishment of a government committee to investigate such practices by the warring sides.

Indigenous repression

For years, human rights groups in Guatemala believed that there were few survivors of the army's repression of the Mayan indigenous population in the early 1980s.

At that time, the army razed more than 400 indigenous villages as it attempted to stamp out Mayan support for the left-wing guerrillas.

This new report is the first hard evidence that many children were in fact not killed along with other villagers, but rather taken away by the soldiers to unknown destinations.

Based on interviews done with the families of 86 missing children, the Church's document suggests that there could be hundreds more.

Unsolved cases

Three cases have been solved so far, the report says, including that of a Mayan girl separated from her parents during an army massacre in 1982, and then adopted by an American family.

In June, the girl, now a young woman, was reunited with her surviving relatives in Guatemala.

Similar investigations in neighbouring El Salvador have reunited more than 100 infants.

Many had been seized by the army and then sold into adoption abroad.

Investigators believe that the task of tracing the missing Guatemalan infants could be much harder, in part because of the number of cases involved.

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27 Apr 98 | Americas
Guatemalan bishop murdered
13 Oct 98 | Americas
Guatemalan prosecutor resigns
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