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Guatemala ex-dictator to stand trial on genocide

GUATEMALA CITY — A former US-backed dictator who presided over one of the bloodiest periods of Guatemala’s civil war will stand trial on charges that he ordered the murder, torture, and displacement of thousands of Mayan Indians, a judge ruled Monday.

Human rights advocates have said that the prosecution of Jose Efrain Rios Montt would be an important symbolic victory for the victims of one of the most horrific of the conflicts that devastated Central America during the last decades of the Cold War.

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He is the first former president to be charged with genocide by a Latin American court.

‘‘It’s the beginning of a new phase of this struggle,’’ said Paul Seils, vice president of the International Center for Transitional Justice, which has worked extensively on war-crimes cases in Guatemala. He said the decision was ‘‘a good step forward’’ but he expected the prosecution of Rios Mont to encounter stiff resistance.

Others hailed the judge’s ruling as a victory for justice in Guatemala.

‘‘The fact that a judge has ordered the trial of a former head of state is a remarkable development in a country where impunity for past atrocities has long been the norm,’’ said Jose Miguel Vivanco, Americas director at Human Rights Watch.

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