Indian Rebels, Mexican Troops Clash; 26 Killed `Zapatista' Fighters Protest Poverty, Nafta, Treatment by Government

By Compiled From News Services | St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO), January 3, 1994 | Go to article overview

Indian Rebels, Mexican Troops Clash; 26 Killed `Zapatista' Fighters Protest Poverty, Nafta, Treatment by Government


Compiled From News Services, St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)


Armed guerrillas fought regular soldiers Sunday after withdrawing from San Cristobal de Las Casas, a popular tourist town. But they held onto three other villages in the area and seized a fourth.

The weekend uprising killed at least 26 people, including nine police officers. It was the first organized guerrilla activity in Mexico since the 1970s. Authorities gave no word of casualties among the guerrillas, Lacandon Indians who seized the towns to draw attention to their poverty.

The federal government was watching the developments, "but we have avoided the trap that they set for us, getting us to react violently," said a spokesman for President Carlos Salinas de Gortari. A statement from the defense secretary said soldiers in the area had been ordered to stay in their barracks.

But after withdrawing from San Cristobal, the Lacandons attacked the Rancho Nuevo military base with pistols, shotguns and automatic weapons. Witnesses said a number of bullet-riddled bodies were lying beside a bus on the highway near the base.

According to witnesses, the guerrillas and about 80 Mexican soldiers exchanged gunfire while a military helicopter circled overhead and fired at the rebels.

The Roman Catholic bishops of Tuxtla Gutierrez, the state capital, and Tapachula, asked for a truce and promised to seek a way to discuss grievances within 48 hours.

The rebels' attacks on San Cristobal and three other towns Saturday and one on Sunday were the latest of many uprisings over the years in Chiapas, one of Mexico's most impoverished and isolated states. Chiapas borders Guatemala and is mainly mountain and jungle.

"This region suffers from historic problems which could not be eliminated totally despite efforts by five years of this administration," Deputy Interior Secretary Ricardo Garcia Villalobos said in a statement.

The Lacandons in a communique posted on walls in San Cristobal said, "The war we are declaring is a last, but just, measure. The dictators have been applying a nondeclared genocidal war against our people for many years."

The state-run news agency Notimex quoted a spokesman, identified as "Lt. Manolo," as saying that the rebels were Mexican and have been training for some time. He denied any ties with armed movements of other countries. Officials said that only about 200 people had taken part in the attacks. The rebel leaders said thousands had been involved.

The rebels said they were from the Zapatista Army of National Liberation, a previously unknown group, and were protesting abuses by Mexican authorities against Lacandons in the region. …

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