GUATEMALA CITY – Former Guatemalan dictator Efraín Ríos Montt testified for the first time at his genocide trial Thursday, denying charges he ordered the massacre of indigenous people during his 1982-1983 regime.
“I declare myself innocent,” the 86-year-old former general told the court after asking to take the stand in the final arguments of his landmark trial.
“I never had the intention, the aim to destroy any national ethnic group,” he said. “I am not genocidal.”
Rio Montt denied the prosecution’s charge that he authorized military plans to exterminate the Ixil Maya population.
“I never authorized, I never signed, I never ordered attacks against a race, an ethnic group or a religion. I never did!” Ríos Montt thundered.
The former dictator, taking sips of water during his 50-minute testimony, accused left-wing rebels of committing human rights violations against civilians.
Prosecutors have requested a 75-year prison term against Ríos Montt and his former military intelligence chief, José Rodríguez, over the massacre if 1,771 Ixil Mayas during the country’s civil war.
The massacre was one of the darkest chapters in the 36-year conflict, which pitted leftist guerrillas against government forces until 1996, leaving some 200,000 dead or “disappeared,” according to the United Nations.