GUATEMALA CITY (AP) - Five former paramilitary members have been sentenced to 780 years each in prison for massacring 26 people during one of the more horrifying incidents in Guatemala's long civil war, a court official said Thursday.
The convictions of the five men, former members of peasant milita groups sponsored by the military, follows years of trials and hearings.
Court spokesman Guillermo Melgar said each of the men was given the maximum 30-year sentence for each of the 26 killings. However, sentences in Guatemala are served concurrently, so the men can only serve up to 30 years.
Public defender Mynor Pineda said he would appeal the guilty verdicts.
A postwar U.N study reported that a military-backed "self-defense patrol" came to the Achi Mayan Indian hamlet of Rio Negro in March 1982 looking for rebel sympathizers.
Rio Negro men who had survived a February massacre of 74 people were hiding in the hills. So the attackers looted the houses, rounded up the women and children and led them up the mountain.
According to the study, many of the women were forced to dance, some were raped, and 70 were slain - often after torture. Killed with them were 107 children. A few children were spared, but forced to serve the patrols as near-slaves, according to victims rights organizations.
The U.N. report noted that the villagers had resisted the military government's plans to build a dam there and said soldiers suspected villagers of collaborating with leftist rebels.
In other wartime massacres, the paramilitary groups sometimes used their positions and weapons to press their side in local land disputes or village rivalries.
The maximum sentences were imposed on Macario Alvarado Toj, Francisco Alvarado Lajuj, Tomas Vino Alvarado, Pablo Ruiz Alvarado and Lucas Lajuj Alvarado, who were based in the village of Oxcoc, near Rio Negro.
They were also sentenced to pay reparations to families of the victims.
Another man was found innocent for lack of evidence.