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Former Guatemalan president on the run

General Mejia overthrew General Rios Montt

Judicial authorities in Guatemala declared former president Oscar Mejia a fugitive this week, after ordering his arrest on charges of genocide during that country’s 36-year civil war.

Mejia, 80, is sought for massacres committed in the Ixil, Quiche region when he served as military chief in 1982-1983, the bloodiest years under former dictator Efrain Rios Montt, the government said.

An arrest warrant was published late on Wednesday for Mejia, who led a military coup against Rios Montt and then served as president between 1983 and early 1986.

Police searched four homes in Guatemala City without locating Mejia, leading the Attorney General’s office to declare him a fugitive.

The 1960-1996 civil war between government forces and leftist guerrillas left nearly a quarter million people dead or missing, mostly Mayan.  A United Nations-backed investigation after the war found the army responsible for hundreds of massacres.

Guatemala chooses a new president next month.

Right-wing candidate and retired general Otto Perez is leading the race to replace leftist President Alvaro Colom, whose administration has begun cracking down on suspected war criminals.  The possibility of a military man once again taking control in Guatemala has evoked powerful memories of the civil war.