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Alberta court says accused Guatemalan war criminal's appeal is 'hopeless'

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CALGARY - The Alberta Court of Appeal has rejected an accused Guatemalan war criminal's fight to avoid extradition to the United States on immigration charges.

Jorge Vinicio Orantes Sosa was arrested in Lethbridge, Alta., in January, 2011.

He is accused of lying to immigration officials about his military past when he applied for U.S. citizenship.

Sosa, who has Canadian citizenship as well, is also wanted by Guatemalan authorities for the alleged massacre of civilians in the village of Dos Erres during that country's civil war.

In a written decision, Justice Brian O’Ferrall said Sosa's request to appeal the extradition order is denied. He said whether Sosa committed any crimes in Guatemala has no influence on whether he is returned to the United States.

"Mr. Sosa is not facing extradition to Guatemala to face murder charges. The extradition is to the United States where the U.S. authorities allege that Mr. Sosa lied to them when he answered 'no' to the question whether he had committed any crimes for which he had not been arrested," wrote O'Ferrall.

"I have carefully reviewed the extradition judge’s decision, and it is my view that Mr. Sosa’s appeal is hopeless. Nor is there any injustice in requiring him to answer the perjury charges in the United States."

It's alleged 251 men, women and children were killed during the massacre at Dos Erres. The military unit believed the village was under rebel control and that its inhabitants were responsible for an ambush on soldiers and the theft of 20 rifles. No weapons were found.

Sosa argued July 25 that the Court of Appeal should overturn the ruling that he is extraditable to the U.S. He said he wasn’t in Dos Erres when the massacre occurred.

"I also note in passing that Mr. Sosa’s evidence that he was not at Dos Erres is somewhat inconsistent with the fact of charges having been laid against him in Guatemala," wrote O'Ferrall.

Sosa's extradition hearing was told that he was a sub-lieutenant at the Kaibil School, which trained special commando units in Guatemala in the late 1970s and early 1980s, and was one of the commanders of a 60-man unit that surrounded Dos Erres in December 1982.

Many of the villagers were killed with sledgehammers. The women and girls were raped and their bodies thrown down the village well, the hearing heard.

"The evidence from the massacre at Dos Erres clearly establishes that Sosa was present and involved and actively participated in the killings with a sledgehammer, a firearm and a grenade,'' Alberta Court of Queen's Justice Neil Wittmann said in granting the extradition order last summer.

"It is hard for this court to comprehend these murderous acts of depraved cruelty.''

A former member of the same unit, Pedro Pimentel Rios, was extradited from the United States to Guatemala a year ago and was sentenced to 6,060 years in prison for his role in the killings.

The Canadian Centre for International Justice had been urging the federal government to try Sosa in Canada for war crimes and crimes against humanity.

"It looks like the court agrees there is evidence on the record about Sosa being involved in the massacre, and it's certainly good that he's in front of a court, but it's disappointing that the charges he's going to face are much weaker charges than what he actually should face," said Matt Eisenbrandt, the centre's legal director said in an interview with The Canadian Press.

"The disappointment is that Canada to this point hasn't shown any interest in prosecuting Sosa in Canada on charges that would actually fit the crimes he's accused of."

Eisenbrandt said it is still possible that Sosa could ask the Supreme Court of Canada to review his case. But Eisenbrandt points out that Sosa doesn't have a lawyer, so it's difficult to say what he may decide to do.

"My suspicion is that the government of Canada will move fairly quickly to try and send him to the United States ... but I just don't know how fast that might happen."

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