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Guatemala Apologizes for Murders of Student Leaders

September 2, 2005

GUATEMALA CITY – The Vice-President this week apologized in the name of the government for the 1989 arrest and summary execution of 10 university students by state security forces, and asked forgiveness from the victims’ families.In an emotional ceremony held at the former presidential palace, where past Guatemalan rulers, in the words of Vice- President Eduardo Stein, “made transcendental decisions, but also sinister and brutal ones,” relatives, friends and authorities paid tribute to the 10 slain student activists from San Carlos University.The bodies of four of the victims were never found, adding their names to the tens of thousands of “disappeared” people from this Central American nation’s brutal 36- year civil war that ended with the signing of a peace accord in 1996.“In my capacity as an elected official and in the name of the government of President Oscar Berger, I apologize because the state did not protect the lives of the university students,” Stein said, stressing that the current administration is determined to examine the history of the Guatemalan state, “regardless of how sad and shameful it may be.”The public “mea culpa” was one of a number of steps the Berger government agreed to in March 2004, after the families of the 10 students raised the issue with the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, a body of the Organization of American States.The vice-president promised the victims’ kin that Berger’s administration would urge Guatemalan courts to pursue the probe of the 1989 slayings “until the material and intellectual culprits are identified and brought to justice.”The student killings, considered the last big assault on the student movement during the 1960-1996 civil war, began Aug. 21, 1989 with the abduction of Ivan Ernesto Gonzalez, a psychology major at San Carlos University.Nine more students were kidnapped in the following week.All 10 students, who ranged in age from 23 to 28, were important figures in the AEU student association, an entity in the vanguard of protests against the repression and human rights abuses that accompanied the Guatemalan military’s battle with leftist rebels.In the days following their abductions, six of the bodies were found at various spots in Guatemala City. Four of the bodies were left with notes citing their involvement with the AEU as the motive for the slayings.A former army intelligence officer said in 2000 that the 10 students were taken to a clandestine jail at the headquarters of the now-defunct military police in northern Guatemala City.

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