Former Guatemalan dictator Efrain Rios Montt will face trial on charges of genocide and crimes against humanity as the Central American nation seeks to close files on a brutal 36-year civil war.

A judge found sufficient evidence that linked Rios Montt, who ruled during a particularly bloody period in 1982 and 1983, to the killing of more than 1,700 indigenous people in one counterinsurgency effort.

I believe that there is enough evidence in these charges, said Judge Carol Flores, who agreed with prosecutors that Rios Montt, as head of the government, should answer for brutality under his rule.

Prosecutors allege that Rios Montt, who ruled as commander-in-chief for 17 months, turned a blind eye as soldiers used rape, torture and arson to rid Guatemala of leftist insurgents.

Lawyers also charge that Rios Montt conceived a counterinsurgency plan that killed at least 1,771 unarmed members of the Ixil tribe that he said were aiding guerrillas and drove another 29,000 more into forced exodus.

Defence attorneys claim that Rios Montt, 85, did not control battlefield operations during the 1960-1996 internal conflict that left nearly a quarter of a million dead or missing and therefore cannot be held responsible.

Each commander is responsible for making decisions in his own post, attorney Danilo Rodriguez said.

Ixil women clad in bright red indigenous dresses attended the hearing that ended in Rios Montt being ordered to house arrest until a preliminary hearing in March.

The right-wing party Rios Montt founded has lost relevance and the former general was turned out of Congress in a September general election, loosing the immunity from prosecution granted to public officials.

(Reporting By Michael McDonald; editing by Christopher Wilson and Eric Beech)