Guatemalans March for Slain Bishop

by Anita Snow

GUATEMALA CITY (AP) — Clad in black and carrying flickering candles, thousands of Guatemalans marched on the eve of today’s burial of a Roman Catholic bishop to demand justice in his killing.p. The protesters walked silently Tuesday night from the cathedral where the body of Bishop Juan Gerardi Conedera lay in a simple wooden casket to the San Sebastian church several blocks away — the place where an attacker bashed in the bishop’s head with a concrete block.p. Just two days before his death, Gerardi had issued a report alleging widespread human rights abuses by the army.p. "We repudiate the cowardly assassination of Monsignor Juan Gerardi,‘’ a sign posted on the cathedral gates said.p. Although the motive of the prelate’s killing remains uncertain, it was a dismaying reminder of the political slayings that terrified Guatemalans during the 1980s, at the height of the Central America nation’s 36-year civil war.p. Such political killings became much scarcer after the December 1996 signing of peace accords between the government and leftist rebels.p. Still, many wounds from the war have not yet healed, and human rights officials are convinced that Gerardi was slain because he dared to criticize the army — which was once one of Guatemala’s most powerful institutions.p. On Friday, he issued a report blaming the army for nearly 80 percent of the 150,000 killings during Guatemala’s civil war. On Sunday night he was killed in his garage at the San Sebastian church.p. Human rights activists say many political slayings in Guatemala have been masked to look like common crimes.p. Marchers Tuesday night called for justice, but spoke out against acts of revenge that would only feed more violence.p. "I come to ask you to be active in working for peace in this country, for reconciliation,‘’ declared Ronalth Ochaeta, a lay worker with the Guatemala Archdiocese’s human rights office. "The only weapons we should have as Christians are love and the word of God.‘’p. Behind him was a black banner inscribed with the words of Archbishop Oscar Romero, who was gunned down in 1980 in neighboring El Salvador at the start of that country’s civil war.p. "If they kill me, I will be resurrected in the people,‘’ it declared.p. Police have no suspects in Gerardi’s slaying, but compiled a composite image of a bearded man, based on information from a homeless man who said he saw someone fleeing Gerardi’s house about the time of the slaying.p. The daily Siglo 21 today quoted an unidentified investigator saying that evidence indicated that more than one person was involved and that one of the killers knew the bishop.

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