ON THIS DAY    5 April      Graphics version >>   BBC News >>
Search ON THIS DAY by date   
  Go back one day Go forward one day

Front Page |  Years |  Themes |  Witness
1970: West German envoy killed by rebels

VIDEO : Charles Wheeler reports from Guatemala City

West Germany's kidnapped ambassador to Guatemala has been shot dead.

The body of Count Karl von Spreti was found in an empty shack 10 miles (16 kilometres) to the north of the country's capital, Guatemala City.

He had a single bullet wound to the temple believed to have been inflicted by the left-wing rebels who seized him last Tuesday.

Count von Spreti was kidnapped six days ago as he travelled from the West German embassy to his home in the suburbs of Guatemala City.

The kidnappers - said to be members of the Rebel Armed Forces (FAR) - demanded the release of 25 political prisoners and a $700,000 (291,000) ransom but the Guatemalan Government refused to negotiate.

It was the second time a Central American government has refused to meet kidnappers' demands during the present series of political abductions on the continent.

Last week the Argentines refused to intervene in the case of a kidnapped Paraguayan diplomat - he was later released unharmed.

However, the FAR rebels have shown themselves to be the least prone to bluff of all the kidnappers.

'Infamous murder'

Guatemala has been in a state of almost perpetual civil war between right-wing military governments and left-wing guerrillas since the 1950s.

The Guatemalan Government has ordered three days of mourning as a mark of respect to Count von Spreti.

However, their failure to intervene to save the ambassador's life has greatly angered the West German Government

West Germany's leader, Willy Brandt, has denounced the killing as an "infamous murder".

In a letter, Mr Brandt accused the Guatemalans of "irresponsible behaviour" and "doing virtually nothing" to save Count von Spreti.

West Germany has now recalled its remaining embassy staff from Guatemala and it seems likely the Guatemalan ambassador in Bonn will be asked to leave.

In Context
Count von Spreti was the second foreign ambassador to be murdered in Guatemala following the death of US ambassador John Meir who was killed during a kidnap attempt in 1968.

Guerrillas of the Rebel Armed Forces (FAR) were blamed for Mr Meir's death and the kidnap of other foreign diplomats in the country.

Humanitarian groups estimate that between 1954 and 1982 approximately 80,000 people died as a result of the fighting between military governments and rebels.

In particular, the regime of General Efrain Rios Montt was blamed for massive human rights abuses.

In the mid-1980s Guatemala began a successful transition from military to civilian rule but the military retains considerable political power.

Search ON THIS DAY by date   
  Go back one day Go forward one day

Front Page |  Years |  Themes |  Witness
^^ Back to top |