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Guatemala Murder Suspects Denied
   
    Guatemala's highest court on Friday denied the requests of three murder suspects that a military tribunal preside over their trials for the killing of Bishop Juan Gerardi.
   
    Gerardi, head of the Guatemalan human rights office for the Catholic Church, was bludgeoned to death with a concrete block on 26 April, 1998.
    His death came two days after he presented a scathing report blaming the Guatemalan military for the vast majority of the 200,000 deaths during the country's 36-year civil war. The conflict, which pitted leftist guerrillas against government forces, ended in a 1996 peace agreement.
   
    Jailed and facing murder charges are Sgt. Byron Lima, his father, retired Col. Byron Disrael Lima Estrada, and Jose Obdilo Villanueva, an ex-member of Guatemala's feared presidential guard. They had filed motions asking that a military court be allowed to hear their cases. The action was widely seen as a delay tactic.
   
    "It is established that common crimes should be handled by a civilian and not a military court, even though those involved are military officers," the Court of Constitutionality wrote in its decision.
   
    Also charged with murder is Gerardi's former assistant, Fr Mario Orantes, who is under house arrest in a hospital while receiving treatment for back and nervous system ailments.
   
   
AP
   
   

20-Nov-00