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More than 200,000 people were killed or disappeared in Guatemala’s 36-year civil war which ended in 1996

The trial has begun in Guatemala of five former paramilitary soldiers accused of raping 36 indigenous Mayan women during the 1980s.

The abuse is alleged to have taken place over five years at the height of the civil war between the military government and left-wing guerrillas.

Prosecutors say the victims’ lives were shattered, and that one was only 12 years old when the abuse began.

The five men accused of rape deny the charges.

They are former members of Guatemala’s Civil Self-Defence Patrols (PAC), local militias blamed for multiple atrocities during the 1960-1996 war.

They joined the hearings through a video conference from the jail, where they will remain until a verdict is issued.

Indigenous people were often targeted by the military government, which accused them of backing the rebels.

The rapes are alleged to have happened around Rabinal, a small town in the department of Baja Verapaz to the north of the capital, Guatemala City.

The area was targeted heavily during the war and is the site of a mass grave where the bodies of over 3,000 people lie.

The identities of most of the women are being withheld for their own safety, according to their lawyer Lucia Xiloj.

Only five of the 36 victims chose to attend the court hearing in person on the first day.

Ms Xiloj said that many Mayan women “were raped after the (forced) disappearance of their husbands” by paramilitaries and soldiers.

Blankets and flowers were placed outside the court as a gesture of solidarity with the women, Reuters reports.

This is not the first trial of its kind to take place in Guatemala.

In 2016, two ex-military members were sentenced to a combined 360 years in jail for the murder, rape and sexual enslavement of indigenous women.

An estimated 200,000 people were either killed or disappeared during Guatemala’s 36-year conflict.

Media caption,

Victims, who say they are still stigmatized, cheered as the men were sentenced

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