Former Guatemala dictator's amnesty appeal denied

Guatemala City (AFP) - A Guatemalan appeals court rejected an amnesty request from former dictator Efrain Rios Montt, whose retrial for genocide during the country's civil war is due to begin in January, the civil parties to the case said Thursday.

The court found the appeal, which would have ended the criminal proceedings, was "unfounded," the Association for Justice and Reconciliation and the Center for Legal Action on Human Rights said in a statement.

"This is a very important decision as it confirms that amnesty cannot be granted for the crime of genocide," the groups added.

The 89-year-old former general, who ruled the Central American country from 1982 to 1983, is accused of ordering the massacre of more than 1,770 Ixil Maya indigenous people.

He was sentenced to 80 years in prison at an initial trial in 2013 -- the first former head of state in the world to be tried for genocide in a domestic court.

But the Constitutional Court threw out his conviction on procedural grounds and ordered a retrial.

That trial will now begin January 11 but behind closed doors, after the judge in the case agreed with a medical examiner's report finding Rios Montt has dementia and is no longer mentally fit to appear in court.

If convicted, Rios Montt will not face prison time due to his condition, but would serve his sentence in house arrest or in a medical facility.

Rios Montt and his military intelligence chief, Jose Rodriguez, are charged with orchestrating a scorched-earth campaign in Ixil Maya areas as the government sought to stamp out rural support for leftist guerrilla groups at the height of Guatemala's 1960 to 1996 civil war.

Rodriguez will be tried separately in open court.