Mildewed Police Files May Hold Clues to Atrocities in Guatemala

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The files promise a collection of new evidence for victims of human rights abuses during a a 36-year civil conflict.

Last summer, authorities from the Guatemalan human rights ombudsman's office, searching a munitions depot here, discovered what appear to be all the files of the National Police, an agency so inextricably linked to human rights abuses during this country's 36-year civil conflict that it was disbanded as part of the peace accords signed in 1996.

At that time, President Álvaro Arzú's government, struggling to usher this country through an uncertain transition from war to peace, denied to a truth commission that police files existed. It now seems clear, human rights investigators say, that Mr. Arzú's government, as well as those that followed, knew about the files all along.

In the months since the files were discovered, archivists kept them closed to the public and much of the news media because of concerns that, given the depot's many open, unfinished windows and doorways, the files could be pilfered or destroyed. In addition, the archivists said they needed time simply to do a preliminary examination to get a sense of what was in the files.

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