Chiapas: thousands flee new paramilitary violence

An estimated 5,000 Tzotzil Maya peasants have been forced to flee their homes in the municipality of Chalchihuitán, in Mexico's southern Chiapas state, facing threats by armed men in a land dispute with the neighboring municipality of Chenalhó. The displaced, living in improvised camps since their homes were attacked in October, only started to receieve aid this week, as Chenalhó residents blocked all three roads to the community. Army vehicles started delivering aid Dec. 12 after one blockade was relaxed, but on condition that only humanitarian aid be allowed through. The army and state and federal police have established a Mixed Operations Base in the area. The local Catholic diocese of San Cristóbal de las Casas said that an "atmosphere of terror" prevails in the area, and warned of a repeat of the 1997 Acteal massacre, when 45 were killed by paramilitary gunmen in a hamlet of Chenalhó.

The diocese called on Gov. Manuel Velasco Coello to urgently address the conflict. The dispute between the municipalities dates to the 1970s, when the Mexican government set the territorial limits between them. Some 900 hectares awarded to Chalchihuitán have since then been claimed by Chenalhó. The new violence erupted Oct. 18, when residents of Canalumtic community in Chalchihuitán were reportedly forced from their homes by a group of armed men from Chenalhó. The displaced families say their crops were burned in the attack, and one campesino, named as Samuel Luna Girón, was killed. (El Universal, Dec. 12; Mexico News Daily, Dec. 7; NPR, Dec. 1; APRO, Cuarto Poder, Nov. 30; Mexico News Daily, Nov. 28)