GUATEMALA CITY – A former rebel testified Tuesday that an ex-guerilla commander didn't consult with his superiors in giving the order to kill 22 rural villagers the rebels suspected of collaborating with the army during Guatemala's civil war.
Appearing as a witness in the first trial of a rebel commander charged with a mass killing in the 1960-96 war, Jaime Tuyux testified that defendant Fermin Felipe Solano Barillas alone made the decision in 1988 to kill the civilians in the village of El Aguacate.
Tuyux said he learned about the killings when Solano Barillas, whose nom de guerre was "Lieutenant David," gave him and other rebel leaders a verbal report about what was happening in his district.
The massacre in the township of El Aguacate began on Nov. 22, 1988, when leftist rebels allegedly killed Carlos Humberto Guerra Callejas, a civilian liaison with the military in the village 40 miles (65 kilometers) west of Guatemala City.
"In the report Lieutenant David said ... that on November 22 a military commissioner arrived in the area and that he decided to strangle him, to kill him, so he wouldn't reveal their position," Tuyux said.
Two days later people came searching for that man, and Solano Barillas "decided to kill all 20 of them," Tuyux added. He said Solano Barillas also ordered a guerrilla member killed as a suspected army informant.
Survivors say Guerra Callejas was killed because he had discovered a place in the mountains that the rebels were using to hide clothes, food and other items and was stealing their supplies.
The survivors say that three days after he went missing, a group of relatives and friends organized a search party that was ambushed by rebels. A few managed to escape, but 20 were captured, tortured and strangled. Soldiers found Guerra Callejas' body and then fought with rebels before unearthing the bodies of the other 21 victims from clandestine graves.
Solano Barrillas was a commander in the Revolutionary Organization of the People in Arms, which was one of four guerrilla groups that fought against the government during a civil war that killed more than 200,000 people. He is the only person charged in the case.
Tuyux's claim could weaken the demands of human rights activists that Solano Barilla's rebel superior, Pedro Pablo Palma Lau, be investigated in the case. Rights activists have said that as Solano Barillas' superior, Palma Lau, likely knew about the massacre.
Palma Lau also testified Tuesday and said he that didn't know about the killings until afterward and that he was not in the country when the killings occurred.
Past attempts to obtain justice for atrocities during the conflict have focused on the misdeeds by Guatemala's army. Several high-ranking officials have been prosecuted on war-crimes charges. But the highest-ranking, former dictator Efrain Rios Montt, saw his conviction annulled last year in a high court decision that many saw as a sign of the lingering influence of the military and its supporters.