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Nobel winner seeks presidency

Published: 2:40PM Saturday February 10, 2007 Source: Reuters

Maya Nobel laureate Rigoberta Menchu will run for Guatemala's presidency this year in an attempt to become Latin America's second indigenous head of state that will pitch her against a civil-war era army foe.

Menchu, a defender of victims of Guatemala's bloody 1960-1996 civil war from the Maya ethnic group, will run in the Sept. 9 election, although she has not decided for which party, spokeswoman Otilia Lux de Coti told reporters on Friday.

If Menchu wins, she will follow the footsteps of Evo Morales who last year became Bolivia's first indigenous president. Latin America's native population suffers discrimination despite being a majority in several countries.

The presidential bid is sure to open up old wounds. The civil war between right-wing governments and leftist insurgents claimed 200,000 lives, most of them Maya farmers killed by soldiers and paramilitaries.

Menchu is deciding whether to run for the newly formed, left-of-center Together for Guatemala coalition or the Guatemalan National Revolutionary Unit (URNG), the peacetime party launched by the former rebel group of the same name.

Gen. Otto Perez Molina, an army commander at the height of the war in the Quiche region where Menchu was born and which was hit hardest by army and paramilitary massacres, is running for president with the Patriotic Party.

Menchu's brother and mother were tortured and killed during the Cold War-era conflict, which ended with peace accords a decade ago but left deep scars among the Maya inhabitants of Guatemala's dirt-poor countryside.

Menchu, who spoke no Spanish as a child and still wears traditionally embroidered Mayan clothes, was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1992 for her human rights work. She has received numerous death threats.

"First and foremost we are committed to the values and principles that guide the Maya people and that could lead to new concepts of democracy in Guatemala," Lux de Coti said.