Day After the Attack on La Realidad

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Posted by rdom on January 05, 1998 at 09:21:51:

By Jesus Ramirez

LA REALIDAD, Mexico, Jan 4 - The day after army troops swept through
their village, frightened Indians in the southern Mexican rebel stronghold of
La Realidad voiced fears that troops would return in search of guerrillas.

Warplanes and helicopters buzzed overhead early on Saturday as a convoy of
armored vehicles armed with machineguns rumbled through the village in the
Chiapas highlands. It was over by late Saturday night.

The army said it was on a routine mission searching for weapons outside town
when it received a report of guerrillas in the area, then entered La Realidad
in hot pursuit.

The troops didn't capture any guerrillas, but they did seize a rifle and some

They also succeeded in striking fear into the villagers, whose town means
Reality in Spanish, and in heightening the tensions besetting Chiapas since
the Dec. 22 massacre of 45 Indian refugees in the village of Acteal.

A La Realidad community leader who identified himself only as Maximiliano said
villagers were still worried on Sunday because 10 of the 26 vehicles that had
rumbled into the area on Saturday showed up again, but then left empty.

``We still don't know where soldiers are, and people are afraid they will
return,'' he said, behind the Zapatistas' trademark ski mask that hid his

La Realidad, an extremely remote jungle town of 600 people about 500 miles
(800 km) southeast of Mexico City, is a bastion of support for the Zapatistas,
who launched an armed uprising pressing for Indian rights four years ago but
since 1995 have been mostly dormant under a partial peace accord.

The Acteal massacre threw Chiapas back into the international spotlight and
deeply embarrassed the Mexican government, which on Saturday announced the
resignation of Interior Minister Emilio Chuayffet. He had come under fire from
opposition parties for his handling of the massacre.

Authorities strongly denied witness reports that the army had moved into La
Realidad in a bid to capture pipe-smoking Zapatista leader Subcommander
Marcos, and also bristled at the idea that La Realidad had been put under army

Residents said troops asked if they knew Marcos' whereabouts.

Manuel, an Indian peasant wearing a red bandanna to cover his face, said
soldiers approached him while he was working in his corn field.

``They asked me where the rebels' camp was, and where Marcos was,'' he said.
``When I said I didn't know anything, they threatened me and shoved me. They
took me to the commander but I escaped through the coffee trees,'' he said.

The army pointed fingers at leaders of the local Roman Catholic church, who
are big supporters of the Zapatistas.

One Indian man, speaking in signs because he was mute, indicated that he ran
into a group of soldiers in his corn field. Not understanding he couldn't
speak, they grew annoyed when he didn't answer their questions, tying him up
and beating him with their rifle buts.

He showed reporters a blue bruise on his ribs.

``We were very afraid of the soldiers,'' said 9-year-old Jenifer Hernandez,
barefoot and dressed in dirty clothes.

``We didn't know what was going to happen so we stayed inside,'' she said,
adding she and her family didn't sleep all night.

Maximiliano said soldiers had poisoned a pond where the villagers used to
cultivate fish.

A Reuters correspondent witnessed a pond full of fish floating belly-up on the
surface, but it was impossible to know what killed them

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