A Guatemalan court has sentenced a former police official to 90 years in prison for the killings of 37 people more than three decades ago when the Spanish Embassy burned down during this Central American nation's bloody civil conflict.

The court on Monday found Pedro Garcia Arredondo, a former special investigations chief for the Sixth Commando of the National Police, guilty of homicide and crimes against humanity for ordering officers to keep anyone from leaving the diplomatic mission as it burned.

Among those killed in the blaze was Vicente Menchu, father of 1992 Nobel peace laureate Rigoberta Menchu.

Menchu applauded the ruling. "We need to create hope and justice, even if just a drop of it, and this is an example that shows we can go to the justice system and work with it," she said.

Protesters from Indian, student, peasant, labor and other groups had taken over the embassy to call attention to massacres during the 1960-96 civil war. Police surrounded and sealed the facility.

Arredondo had proclaimed his innocence.

At least 245,000 people died or disappeared in Guatemala's 36-year armed conflict, according to a U.N. report.