The Americas

Lawmaker barred from leaving Guatemala over civil war deaths

A governing party lawmaker has been barred from traveling abroad while he is investigated in a case involving the killings of hundreds of people during Guatemala's 1960-1996 civil war, a decision that drew praise Tuesday from relatives of victims.

Chief human rights prosecutor Hilda Pineda confirmed late Monday that a judge issued the precautionary order against Edgar Ovalle, who she said is suspected of murder, forced disappearance and crimes against humanity.

Phone calls to Ovalle went unanswered, and it was not clear if he has legal representation in the case. Ovalle has opposed the investigation through legal actions.

Ovalle has been linked to the kidnapping of multiple people in 1983 and 1984, when he was second in command of a military zone in Coban, north of Guatemala City. The victims were later killed and buried in clandestine graves on a military base.

Other former military officers are also suspected in the killings. Prosecutors say more than 80 common graves have been found containing the remains of at least 565 people allegedly slain by soldiers under their command.

As a member of Guatemala's congress, Ovalle enjoys immunity from prosecution. Judge Claudette Dominguez, who issued the travel ban, is considering whether to withdraw that legal protection.

Aura Elena Farfan, a complainant in the case against Ovalle, said Tuesday that the decision gives hope to relatives of victims.

"In a way, the family members with their denunciations and demand for the application of justice are making cracks in the wall of impunity that for years has kept us waiting for that longed-for justice," Farfan said.

About 250,000 people were killed or disappeared during Guatemala's civil war, according to a U.N. report.