Guatemala convicts ex-police chief for student leader's disappearance

By Mike McDonald

GUATEMALA CITY (Reuters) - A Guatemalan court sentenced a former national police chief on Friday to 40 years in prison for orchestrating the disappearance of a student union leader in 1984 during the country's bloody civil war.

Hector Bol de la Cruz, chief of police from 1983 to 1985, was convicted in the kidnapping and disappearance of Fernando Garcia, last seen when officers detained him outside his home in the capital in 1984.

"The accused supported, authorized and committed the acts in question," Judge Yasmin Barrios told the court after a three-judge panel handed down the conviction and sentence. "Hector Bol de la Cruz had knowledge of Fernando Garcia's capture ... he was the one giving the orders."

The court also sentenced former senior police officer Jorge Gomez to 40 years for his role in the kidnapping. The court found he had ordered a patrol car with four officers to monitor the street where Garcia vanished on February 18, 1984.

Two of the policemen were sentenced in 2010 to 40 years in prison for their involvement in Garcia's disappearance.

Garcia was 26 years old when witnesses last saw him being frisked by officers and taken away in patrol trucks. Police told his family he was being investigated for alleged participation in a local communist party, according to testimony.

"They changed my life, but at the end of the story, justice has been done," said leftist congresswoman Nineth Montenegro, Garcia's wife at the time of his disappearance.

The 73-year-old Bol de la Cruz denied any involvement in Garcia's disappearance, and his lawyers said they would appeal.

Some 200,000 people were killed and 45,000 disappeared during Guatemala's 1960-1996 civil war that pitted a string of right-wing governments against leftist insurgents.

The country of 15 million people has been under pressure from rights groups to bring suspected war criminals to justice.

In May, former dictator Efrain Rios Montt, who ruled during the war's bloodiest phase in 1982 and 1983, was sentenced to 80 years in prison for genocide and crimes against humanity after being convicted of orchestrating the killing of at least 1,771 members of the Maya Ixil group.

But Guatemala's Constitutional Court overturned the sentence against Rios Montt 10 days after his conviction, citing procedural errors during the trial. The 87-year-old is under house arrest awaiting a new trial.

(Editing by Gabriel Stargardter and Peter Cooney)

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