More Info on the Massacre

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Posted by Ron Mader on December 24, 1997 at 13:03:38:

In Reply to: Mexico Paramilitaries Attack Chiapas Indians posted by rdom on December 24, 1997 at 09:47:15:


President Ernesto Zedillo called on the federal attorney general and
the national human rights commission to investigate Monday's
massacre of 46 unarmed indigenous people in a refugee camp in the
southern state of Chiapas.

In a nationally broadcast address Tuesday afternoon, Zedillo called
the massacre ''an absurd criminal act,'' and said: ''There is no
cause, no circumstance, that could justify this action.''

The attack Monday was the bloodiest in Chiapas since 145 people
died, by official count, in the so-called Zapatista (EZLN) uprising
in January 1994.

Monday's bloody massacre occurred in the northern part of the state
where pro-government and pro-rebel groups have been fighting for
power for months.

The victims, all Tzotzil Indians, included 15 children, including one
infant, and the Red Cross said some of those killed had been
hacked with machetes. More than 30 others were seriously
wounded, prompting the Red Cross to say more deaths were likely
due to the severity of the injuries suffered by several victims.

The victims were members of the peasant group Las Abejas, which
sympathizes with the Zapatista rebels. In 1995, the EZLN set up
their own government in the municipality of Chenalho based in the
nearby town of Polho. It is in competition with the officially
recognized local government, run by the Institutional Revolutionary
Party (PRI).

Clashes between supporters of the local government and the PRI
have raged for roughly seven months, killing 30 Tzotzil Indian
peasants and leaving nearly 7,000 homeless.

On Monday afternoon, around 70 members of a local paramilitary
group armed with AK-47s and machetes, entered the refugee camp
and began firing indiscriminately, survivors said.

They shot down women and children as they fled through a coffee
plantation, stopping only to put a final bullet through the heads of
the wounded as they lay in the muddy paths.

Worse still, survivors alleged the assassins were known members
of a local branch of President Zedillo's party, the PRI.

''We were all together praying to God in this refugee camp when
the priistas attacked us,'' survivor Manuel Perez Vazquez, 40, told
Reuters, using the common term for PRI members.

''When the gunfire started we ran toward the stream and tried to
hide in the bush but the attackers came after us firing at everyone.''

Sobbing, he added: ''They killed a lot of women and children.
They killed off those who were lying wounded on the ground.''

Juan Vazquez Luna, a 15-year-old supporter of the Zapatista rebels
in Acteal, said he was praying in a clapboard church when he heard
the first shots. He said he went outside to find about 70 men firing

Along with many of the other 900 people in this highlands village,
he fled down a steep mountainside toward the river, where shallow
caves offered some protection.

But the gunmen followed, and most of the victims were killed along
the river banks, Juan said. He said his mother, father and four
sisters were killed. Three other siblings were wounded.

Javier Perez was one of several survivors who said the victims
recognized their killers as known local PRI members.

''I can tell you exactly who they are,'' he told the Associated Press,
ticking off a list of 10 names. ''They come from the (nearby towns
of) Acteal and Chimix.''

''Some were wearing ski masks and others red handkerchiefs over
their faces but we knew who they were.''

Inhabitants of Acteal -- less than one mile (1.6 km) away -- called
the police as soon as they heard the gunfire.

But the police did not show until more than five hours later, after
the killers had fled -- even though the nearest police post was less
than two miles (three km) away. No one has yet been arrested in
connection with the mass killing.

At least 300 people have died in similar clashes in Chiapas state
since the 1994 uprising -- by some estimates, 600. Tens of
thousands of state police and federal troops have been unable to
calm tensions. In some cases, human rights workers have accused
police of siding with the ruling party-affiliated peasants who have
attacked rebel supporters.

''It's an incomprehensible situation in which we have not been able
to stop the violence,'' Roman Catholic Bishop Samuel Ruiz told
XEWM radio in San Cristobal. Ruiz, a mediator in the peace talks,
warned of a "bloodbath" recently, saying tensions were increasing
and a climate of civil war had become evident in the northern part of
the state. Just last week, Ruiz hosted Papal Nuncio Justo Mullor
Garcia as the Vatican emissary toured Chiapas. Mullor and Ruiz
were the subject of threats made by the PRI paramilitary group Paz
y Justicia.

Monday's massacre was reportedly carried out by the Anti-Zapatista
Indigenous Revolutionary Movement, of which Paz y Justicia is a

On Tuesday, Zedillo said no resource would be denied to the
federal investigators he sent to Chiapas. Attorney General Jorge
Madrazo was the government's peace negotiator before accepting
the post as prosecutor.

Peace talks between the rebels and the federal government broke
down in August 1996, with the rebels accusing the government of
stalling on the implementation of a partial accord signed in February

The legislative Chiapas Peace Commission (Cocopa) condemned
Monday's attack and called for a renewal of talks.

"We demand a full investigation and beseech the authorities to find
out who is responsible, then punish them to the full extent of the
law," said Cocopa spokesman Roberto Javier Fuentes.

Zedillo said federal authorities would help the state government
maintain order in the region, tacitly admitting the state government's
inability to do so on its own.

Chiapas state authorities said they were investigating who might
have committed the massacre and declined to comment on
suggestions that they were PRI members. The PRI's national
leadership has denied that party members were involved.

Chiapas Gov. Julio Cesar Ruiz Ferro, a PRI member, ordered ''an
immediate and profound investigation'' and promised ''to apply all
the rigor of the law to those guilty.''

Zapatista sympathizers have long accused Ruiz's government of
supporting paramilitary groups in Chenalho, a claim his
administration has denied.

The party's national president, Mariano Palacios Alcocer, rushed to
distance his party from the attack.

''The PRI rejects violence in all its forms,'' Palacios Alcocer said.

The National Action Party urged immediate intervention to resolve
the many problems and halt the violence. In a press release, the
center-right party asked the Senate to consider declaring a state of
emergency in Chiapas.

Human rights groups criticized the federal government for allowing
the situation to get out of control.

"We blame the state government of Chiapas and the federal
government for this act of genocide," said the National Network of
Human Rights Groups in a press release. "They have systematically
ignored the violence, tacitly condoned the activities of the
paramilitary groups and rejected the peace proposals formulated by

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