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Judge vows Guatemala genocide trial will go on


A judge in the genocide trial of Guatemala's former strongman Efrain Rios Montt has declared she will not follow the "illegal" order of another jurist who threw out the case.

"We are not obligated to follow orders which are manifestly illegal, and no public official is above the law," presiding judge Jazmin Barrios declared in court on Friday.

The case against Rios Montt was thrown into turmoil after Judge Carol Patricia Flores -- who had earlier recused herself -- annulled the case on a technicality in a surprise move on Thursday.

If that ruling stands, it could send the entire legal case against Rios Montt back to the pre-trial phase.

Barrios, while insisting that the trial will go forward, suspended proceedings Friday, saying the country's highest court -- the Constitutional Court -- would issue a ruling in the coming days.

The genocide trial arises from the country's 36-year civil war, which pitted leftist guerrillas against government forces until 1996, leaving an estimated 200,000 dead or "disappeared," according to the United Nations.

Rios Montt, 86, is accused of ordering the execution of 1,771 members of the Ixil Maya people in the Quiche region during his 1982-1983 regime. He insists he was unaware of the massacres committed by the army.

Since Rios Montt's trial for genocide and crimes against humanity opened on March 19, more than 100 witnesses and experts have testified, and the proceedings were in their closing stages.

The move to annul the case sparked protests by human rights groups, who have filed formal complaints.

"This decision shows disregard for the rights of victims, in effect re-traumatizing them all over again," Amnesty International said.

The ruling calls into question "judicial independence and impartiality," said Ramon Cadena, director of the International Commission of Jurists.

Rios Montt's attorney Francisco Palomo meanwhile told AFP in a recent interview that the trial is completely "tainted" due to "legal aberrations," accusing the prosecution and the court of "rushing the trial."