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Guatemala's Top 2 Military Chiefs Are Fired

July 05, 1997|From Associated Press

GUATEMALA CITY — Guatemala's president fired his top two military officials Thursday, including Defense Minister Gen. Julio Arnoldo Balconi Turcios, who had taken on hard-liners in the corrupt military.

President Alvaro Arzu appointed Balconi as defense minister when he took office in January 1996, and the appointment was seen as a victory for the pro-peace wing of the military.

The government gave no reason for the firings, but Balconi had been expected to go because of power struggles within the army.

Balconi's command has been characterized by unprecedented purges of hard-liners opposed to the peace process.

He had begun to oversee the reduction of the military in accordance with commitments in a peace treaty signed in December.

In that treaty, the military and leftist rebel groups ended 35 years of armed conflict, Latin America's longest war. An estimated 140,000 people--most of them civilians--were killed in the war, and 40,000 disappeared.

In addition to Balconi, Arzu fired the head of the military high command, Gen. Sergio Camargo, the president's spokesman said.

Balconi will be replaced by Gen. Hector Barrios Celada, the head of Guatemala's largest brigade. Celada is also associated with pro-peace elements of the military, said Hector Rosada, a former government peace negotiator.

Camargo's replacement is Marco Tulio Espinoza, who had been the head of the presidential guard.

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