Guatemalan, UN investigators seek arrest of suspects in bus killings

1 April 2009

Guatemalan authorities with the support of a United Nations-backed anti-crime commission have issued arrest warrants in the allegedly drug-related murders of 15 Nicaraguans and one Dutch citizen travelling on a bus that was forced off a Guatemalan highway last November.

Attorney General Amilcar Velásquez and Carlos Castresana, head of the International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala, revealed the warrants at a joint press conference yesterday in Guatemala City.

The officials named 11 suspects in the killings, at least one of them a former police officer, saying they were members of a Guatemalan cocaine and arms trafficking gang that stopped the vehicle in search of illegal narcotics and then killed all of the persons on board before burning the vehicle.

One suspect is under arrest and others remain at large, the officials announced. They appealed for cooperation from Guatemalan citizens in locating the remaining fugitives. Mr. Castresana said the group had international connections and presumed links to public servants.

The burned bus was discovered in the eastern Department of Zacapa on 8 November. It had begun its journey in Nicaragua and continued through El Salvador before being diverted shortly after crossing the border into Guatemala, the officials said.

Since its emergence from a 36-year armed conflict, Guatemala has become an increasingly important transit point for illegal drug shipments between producing countries in South America and the United States market, exacerbating already high rates of violent crime and impunity.

The UN-backed Commission, which goes by its Spanish initials CICIG, began operations last year under an agreement between the UN and the Government of Guatemala. Its mandate is to help the Central American country fight impunity by assisting in the identification and dismantling of criminal networks.

Mr. Castrana, a former prosecutor and judge of the Supreme Court of Spain, was named to his position by Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.

The warrants announced yesterday follow the arrest last week, on a warrant also sought by CICIG, of a former army finance chief on charges of embezzling public funds.


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