A Guatemalan court has moved up by five months the trial of former strongman Gen. Efrain Rios Montt and one of his closest collaborators for genocide and crimes against humanity, a lawyer involved in the case told Efe Wednesday.

"Today at around 11:00 in the morning the court official notified us by telephone that the start of the trial has been rescheduled for March 19," plaintiffs' attorney Hector Reyes said.

The court initially set a date of Aug. 14 for the trial of Rios Montt and retired Gen. Jose Mauricio Rodriguez.

Judge Miguel Angel Galvez ruled late last month that there was sufficient evidence to prosecute the men for the killings of 1,771 Ixil Indians between March 1982 and August 1983.

Rios Montt, 86, is accused of masterminding the bloodbath, while the 67-year-old Rodriguez is charged with carrying out the mass killings as a part of a "scorched earth" campaign during Guatemala's 1960-1996 civil war.

The trial will be the first of any Guatemalan ruler for the massacres and atrocities of the civil war.

Rios Montt presided over the bloodiest phase of a conflict that claimed more than 200,000 lives. Most of the dead were Indian peasants slaughtered by the army and its paramilitary allies. EFE