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Jul 27, 1999

Inquiry convened on killing of Guatemalan by B.D.F.

The Commission of Inquiry into last month’s shooting death of a Guatemalan began today in Belmopan. The proceeding, which is similar to a coroner’s inquest, will determine whether excessive force was used in the June twelfth incident, in which Mateo Ramirez was fatally shot by a B.D.F. patrol in Arenal Village, Cayo, along the Guatemalan border. The first ten of an expected twenty one witnesses were called in what will likely be three days of hearings. Key testimony came this morning from witness Irena Cunil. Cunil, a Belizean living on the Belize side of the border village reaffirmed several written statements she gave to both Belizean and Guatemalan authorities. She said she saw Ramirez, who regularly visited the village to sell produce, running through her neighbor’s yard, then in and out of her house. Along the way he picked up a machete belonging to Cunil and was in the yard waving it. At that point Cunil said she heard a soldier tell Ramirez to drop the machete or he would be shot. Shortly afterwards a shot rang out, killing Ramirez. Other witnesses gave accounts which differed only slightly from Cunil’s and included testimony about a fight earlier that day between Ramirez and a B.D.F. soldier, after which Ramirez escaped across the border into Guatemala. The inquiry is being headed by Chief Magistrate Herbert Lord and includes Maria Gamero of the Human Rights Commission and former Chief Education Officer Inez Sanchez. Attorneys for the B.D.F. are Samira Musa and Oswald Twist while Jeremy Courtenay is representing the interests of the Guatemalan Embassy. Chief Magistrate Lord reminded all present that the proceeding was not a criminal trial but an inquiry seeking truth. After all the witnesses are heard the Commission will report its findings to the Prime Minister. Criminal proceedings, if warranted, could be filed independently by the D.P.P. or by the B.D.F. under its own system of military justice. Tomorrow key B.D.F. witnesses who were present at the time of the shooting will tell their version of events.

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