Rising concern among Protestant and Catholic leaders in this country over developments in Guatemala has prompted a first-hand investigation there by a team of U.S. church leaders and pressure by American Catholic bishops on the U.S. government's Latin American policy.
The National Council of Churches has sent a team of four, three men and a woman, all of them veterans of service in Latin America, to Guatemala to investigate allegations of recent human rights violations there.
In a separate but related development, Archbishop John R. Roach, president of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops, has urged the Reagan administration to withhold military aid to Guatemala until "substantial and verifiable" proof is available that human rights abuses, especially against Indian populations, have ceased.
Roach cited a letter which Guatamala Catholic bishops wrote last May, charging that in the struggle between government forces and insurgents, there has been rampant disregard for human life that has amounted to "genocide." Reports since then indicated that "campaigns directed especially against the Indian population have continued and even increased," Roach said. "A tragedy of unimaginable proportions is unfolding daily in that troubled land," he said.
Similar reports reaching the Rev. William Wipfler, human rights officer of the National Council of Churches, in New York last month prompted him to cable Guatemalan President Rios Montt, urging that Montt intervene to stop the killings.
Guatemalan officials denied the charges and invited Wipfler to come there and see for himself. After negotiations, the invitation was expanded to include the four-person team, which does not include Wipfler, with guarantees that it would be able to move freely and unaccompanied in Guatamala and that persons interviewed by team members would not suffer reprisals.