Ailing Guatemalan ex-dictator requests retrial absence

Efrain Rios Montt, seen here on November 19, 2013, ruled Guatemala from March 1982 to August 1983, as the country struggled with a bloody civil war pitting successive rightwing regimes against leftist rebels (AFP Photo/Johan Ordonez) (AFP/File)

Guatemala City (AFP) - Lawyers for Guatemalan ex-dictator Efrain Rios Montt said Friday he is too sick to attend court next week, when he faces a retrial for genocide over the killings of indigenous people in the 1980s.

"The health condition of General Rios (Montt) has been deteriorating during the past year and doctors are watching him very closely to see if he's in good enough shape to attend on Monday," Luis Rosales, a lawyer for Rios Montt, told AFP.

The lawyer had asked the court if Rios Montt could be absent. He said the 88-year-old suffers from back problems due to his advanced age, as well as heart and eye issues that would worsen during a lengthy trial.

Rios Montt "is being treated with absolute rest, and doctors say he is only allowed to move to go to the bathroom, nothing else," Rosales said, noting that the military continues to keep his client under house arrest in an upscale part of the capital.

The retired general faces a renewed trial on genocide charges that he ordered the massacre of indigenous Ixil Maya people in the 1980s as part of a scorched-earth policy during his dictatorship.

In May 2013, Guatemala's Constitutional Court struck down on procedural grounds Montt's conviction for genocide and war crimes as well as the 80-year sentence given to the former dictator.

Rios Montt and his former intelligence chief Jose Rodriguez were charged with ordering the army to carry out 15 massacres that left 1,771 Maya Ixil Indians dead in Quiche in northern Guatemala. Rodriguez was acquitted.

Some 200,000 people were killed or vanished without a trace in the country's 1960-1996 civil war, according to a 1999 UN-sponsored report. More than 90 percent of the human rights violations took place between 1978 and 1984.

On Tuesday, Rios Montt's defence asked for a judge in the case to be removed, saying she was biased because of views expressed in an academic dissertation she wrote in 2004.