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Rights Group Sees Chiapas Indians Terrorized

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  • Dan Clore
    Rights group sees Mexico Chiapas Indians ``terrorized Lorraine Orlandi MEXICO CITY, May 23 (Reuters) - The heavy presence of Mexican troops in the troubled
    Message 1 of 1 , May 27, 2000
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      Rights group sees Mexico Chiapas Indians ``terrorized''

      Lorraine Orlandi

      MEXICO CITY, May 23 (Reuters) - The heavy presence of
      Mexican troops in the troubled state of Chiapas is
      terrorising peasants and ripping apart the social
      fabric of Indian communities, international rights
      workers said on Tuesday.

      ``The militarization continues to grow ... exacerbating
      destruction of the social fabric and violation of
      individual and social guarantees, all of which is
      provoking psychological terror in the communities,''
      the Second National and International Civil Observation
      Mission to Chiapas said upon returning this week from a
      four-day visit to the region.

      The delegation of 130 national and international rights
      workers visited several communities in the dirt-poor
      state bordering Guatemala, where Zapatista rebels
      declared war against the government on Jan. 1, 1994
      over indigenous rights.

      Stepped up army and police forces aim to enforce law
      and order and do humanitarian work such as providing
      food, medicine and haircuts, the government has said.

      But the delegation reported growing instability and
      tension within communities, provoked partly by the
      presence of military, police and paramilitary troops,
      which they said threatened free participation in the
      July 2 national election.

      The situation paralleled what the same mission saw
      only a few weeks before the 1997 massacre of 45 Tzotzil
      Indians in Acteal, said Michael Chamberlin, secretary
      of a Mexican rights group that led the delegations.

      ``What we saw then was extremely worrisome, and at the
      end of that month came the massacre at Acteal,''
      Chamberlin told Reuters. ``In different communities
      and regions of Chiapas we now see the situation
      aggravated and it could reach something like Acteal.''

      A retired general and two senior security officials
      were sentenced this month to eight years in prison for
      negligence in the Acteal massacre. Another 44 indigenous
      participants in the massacre, members of a paramilitary
      group, are serving 35-year prison sentences.

      A host of organisations in recent weeks have denounced
      militarization in the zone, which they blame for threats
      and violence among largely indigenous citizens, with
      Indians frequently turning against Indians.

      Tuesday's report painted a dismal picture.

      ``Mental health in the population shows signs of grave
      deterioration, in the incidence of suicide, the rise in
      family violence, the spiraling increase in alcohol
      consumption, other types of addiction, depression,
      fear and violence,'' the report said.

      The delegates found a daily reality in ``sharp contrast''
      to government pronouncements that violence is diminishing
      and the needs of mainly poor, farming communities are
      being addressed.

      The gulf between the grass roots view of the rights
      situation and the government version was highlighted last
      November by U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Mary
      Robinson in a landmark visit to Mexico.

      ``If I can bring those realities closer together, that
      will be one result of this visit,'' she said then.

      The delegates called on the state to withdraw military and
      police forces, saying peace cannot come to Chiapas through
      force, and to invest in long-term social programmes instead.

      ``The government must recognise its responsibility in
      generating this situation by its incapacity to implement
      effective programmes of sustainable development,'' they said.

      Environmental degradation in the Montes Azules biosphere --
      one of Mexico's last remaining rain forests -- is largely the
      result of government indifference rather than indigenous
      practices, as the government has claimed, the report said.
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