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RIGHTS-PERU: Generals on Trial for Murders of 37 Students

Ángel Páez

LIMA, Apr 2 2010 (IPS) - There is more than enough evidence to convict three generals and other army officers in the kidnapping and murder of 36 university students from the highlands city of Huancayo in Peru between 1989 and 1993, Víctor Lizárraga of the National Human Rights Coordinator (CNDDHH) told IPS.

Students killed by the army.  Credit: Courtesy Crónika magazine of Huancayo

Students killed by the army. Credit: Courtesy Crónika magazine of Huancayo

Charges in the case were brought on Mar. 8 against Generals Manuel Delgado, Luis Pérez and David Jaime Sobrevilla, who during those years commanded the army’s 31st infantry brigade based in Huancayo, in the central region of Junín, where the Universidad Nacional del Centro (UNC) is located.

But details from the prosecutor’s charge sheet are just coming out now.

The UNC students, suspected of belonging to or sympathising with the Sendero Luminoso (Shining Path) or Tupác Amaru Revolutionary Movement (MRTA) guerrillas, were killed during one of the bloodiest periods of the 1980-2000 civil war between the leftist rebels and government forces.

Col. Elías Espinoza, former intelligence commander Danilo Gonzáles and Lt. Boris Rosas, accused of seizing and killing the students, were under the orders of the three generals.

“Prosecutor Carlos Carhuancho is accusing the generals of authorising the murders – the same formula used to convict former president Alberto Fujimori for the Barrios Altos and La Cantuta massacres, committed by the Army Intelligence Service,” which was under the president’s command, said Lizárraga of the CNDDHH, which represents the victims’ families.

He added that evidence against the generals abounds.

The court has “the testimony of relatives who witnessed the kidnappings of their children as they were taken to the army garrison, and who later found their bodies dumped” on the outskirts of the city, he said.

“We also have the operation manuals used by the army, describing how to kidnap and kill the detainees, as well as the accounts of students who after being hauled in and tortured by the military, managed to regain their freedom under different circumstances,” Lizárraga added.

“The military operations that resulted in the disappearance and death of hundreds of people, including the students of the Universidad Nacional del Centro…formed part of the military’s counterinsurgency strategy,” says the prosecutor’s charge sheet, which documents 37 homicides and 33 kidnappings of students.

The operations were carried out “within the context of a normative framework that not only allowed the indiscriminate repression to take place, but also made possible the concealment of the human rights violations as part of a systematic and generalised practice of kidnappings and homicides,” the document adds.

The Maoist Sendero Luminoso had a strong influence at the UNC university, where it killed professors and students opposed to the rebel movement, Carhuancho said.

The university later became the scene of a firefight between the MRTA and Sendero Luminoso, which were fighting for control over the campus.

Government forces then began to target students at the university suspected of involvement with the insurgents.

In its final report, the independent Truth and Reconciliation Commission that investigated the two decades of political violence stated that between 1989 and 1993 “more than 100 students from the Universidad Nacional del Centro” were forcibly disappeared or killed.

During that period, “the police or the army, or both, as part of joint operations, entered the university more than 15 times and took down the particulars of students, professors and staff, many of whom were later disappeared or killed,” the report adds.

The army’s first incursion onto the UNC campus occurred on Mar. 8, 1989. Shortly afterwards, it set up a “civic action base” stationed at the university. Students then began to go missing, many of their bodies eventually showing up on the outskirts of the city.

“The kidnapping and murder of students was an army counterinsurgency strategy,” a former member of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, Carlos Tapia, told IPS. “By means of stool pigeons, the military identified and arrested students who were considered to form part of the underground political apparatus of Sendero Luminoso, to kill or ‘disappear’ them.”

“The elimination of the suspects was approved in a June 1989 army manual known as ME41-7 – a manual on unconventional warfare,” he said.

The first victim was economy student Rubén Ponce, whose remains were found bearing clear signs of torture on Nov. 1, 1989, according to the prosecutor’s charge sheet. At that time, current President Alan García was reaching the end of his first term (1985-1990).

In 1990, another 10 students were murdered. On Jul. 8, 1991, then president Alberto Fujimori (1990-2000) visited the university to inspect the army’s performance there. Later, he pushed through a law authorising the armed forces to occupy campuses if “terrorist elements or groups disturb the peace and internal order”.

Shortly after the law was passed, a wave of murders took place. Between Jan. 20 and Oct. 2, 1992, 25 students were kidnapped and killed.

Gen. Delgado is accused of aggravated homicide of 11 students and kidnapping of six others, Gen. David Jaime Sobrevilla of the murder of one student and the kidnapping of five, and Gen. Pérez of the kidnapping of eight students.

Pérez is also charged with participating in the kidnapping of nine students and a professor from La Cantuta university in Lima on Jul. 18, 1992. Fujimori was sentenced to 25 years in prison in connection with the case, known as the La Cantuta massacre.

Former intelligence commander González, and Lt. Rosas, who was in charge of the “civic action base” stationed at the university, are accused of killing 25 students in 1992.

Due to the severity of the charges, Carhuancho requested police protection for five former kidnapping victims who are key witnesses in the trials and whose lives are in danger.

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