Massacre survivor says Guatemalan soldier who raised him must face justice

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Ramiro Osorio Cristales was 5 years old the day Guatemalan troops dragged his mother and siblings to their deaths in a massacre.

Ripped from his village, which was decimated by the soldiers, Osorio Cristales said he found himself living with a soldier who ordered him to call him "Dad," refused to answer questions about where he came from and made him toil in the pineapple crops while subjecting him to years of physical abuse.

Now 38, Osorio Cristales said he is willing to travel to Guatemala to testify against that former soldier, Santos López Alonzo, who was deported Wednesday from the United States. He is wanted in the 1982 massacre of more than 200 people in the Guatemalan village during the height of the country's civil war.

"There's nothing left for him but to face justice," Osorio Cristales told The Associated Press in a telephone interview from Canada, where he was given asylum. "He has to pay for what he did."

The more than three decades-long civil war in Guatemala claimed at least 200,000 lives before ending in 1996, with the U.S.-backed army responsible for most of the deaths, according to findings of an independent truth commission set up to investigate the bloodshed.

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Soldiers were sent to the village of Las Dos Erres in December 1982 to search for weapons believed stolen by rebels, but rounded up innocent men, women and children, raping girls and bludgeoning the villagers with a sledgehammer.

Years later, investigators dug up more than 160 skeletons at the village well. Authorities issued arrest warrants for 17 soldiers, including López, and five who have been sentenced to more than 6,000 years in prison.

López said he never killed anyone, that he rescued Osorio Cristales from the onslaught and that he never mistreated him.

"He who owes nothing, fears nothing," López told the Associated Press in an interview at a California immigration detention facility last week. "If I had done something, if I had killed, I would be afraid, but I feel clean."

Osorio Cristales said he doesn't recall López carrying out the killings but remembers him preventing villagers from escaping as soldiers dragged them from the local church and threw them into a well.

He said López blocked him from following his mother as she was taken from the church, and he retreated inside and fell asleep on a bench. When he awoke, he was taken by soldiers to a military base, and eventually sent to live with López, who refused to answer questions about where the boy came from.

"He always lied, saying he didn't know," Osorio Cristales said. "Having changed my name, having made me call him 'Dad,' I can't forgive anyone this."

López was arrested in 2010 in the United States and charged with illegally re-entering the country after a 1999 deportation order. He wasn't immediately sent back because he was held as a material witness in the American government's prosecution of one of his former comrades for immigration crimes related to the killings.

López is due to appear in court in Guatemala in the coming days.

Osorio Cristales said Guatemalan authorities came looking for him in the late 1990s and interviewed him about his memories. He said it was the first time he had spoken about the massacre because he lived in fear of López.

At the time, he was serving in the army, but grew concerned about his safety and broke away. He was placed under protection by the Guatemalan government, given a DNA test and reunited with his grandparents and other extended family before leaving for Canada as an asylum seeker, he said. He now has a wife and children and a new life.

On the retreat from his village in 1982, Osorio Cristales said he remembers López feeding him bread and condensed milk. But he doesn't believe López took him from Las Dos Erres to protect him, adding that after the onslaught soldiers questioned him about whether his family had weapons.

"I say maybe that wasn't so much it as my fate. I was not to die at that moment," Osorio Cristales said. "I had to live to be the voice of those who didn't."

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