Guatemala reboots genocide trial for ex-dictator

Guatemala City (AFP) - Former Guatemalan military dictator Efrain Rios Montt's genocide trial will restart from zero after being separated from a similar case against his spy chief, a lawyer said Friday.

A linked trial of the two men on the genocide charges had been under way since March 16.

But evidence and hearings in Rios Montt's case were presented behind closed doors while those for his intelligence chief, Jose Rodriguez, were conducted in open court.

Early this month, an appeals court ruled that the two cases should be tried separately. The plaintiffs had fought for that outcome, fearing the linked trial raised the risk of a verdict being thrown out on appeal.

"The ruling canceled all that has already taken place and annuls the hearings held up to May 2," said Hector Reyes, lawyer for the Center for Legal Action in Human Rights, which is participating in Rios Montt's trial.

If no appeal is lodged before Saturday, moves will be made for new judges to be designated to take on the fresh and separate trials of Rios Montt and Rodriguez at dates yet to be set.

Rios Montt's trial will again be held behind closed doors, and without the 89-year-old ex-leader present because of health problems.

His attorneys say he suffers from dementia and is too ill to attend his trial.

Rodriguez's hearings will again be open to the public.

Rios Montt is accused of being ultimately responsible for the murders of 1,771 indigenous Ixil-Maya people in 1982-1983, at the height of Guatemala's 36-year civil war which ended in 1996.

A May 2013 trial delivered a conviction and an 80-year sentence against Rios Montt, but that was overturned days later by Guatemala's constitutional court, which ordered the new trial.