Mexicans enraged by massacre claim

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The Independent Online
Mexican human-rights groups expressed outrage yesterday over a statement by the country's attorney-general suggesting a pre-Christmas massacre of 45 Indian peasants was sparked by a family feud.

"The massacre was the result of the systematic violation of human rights" by armed men affiliated with the ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), said Marieclaire Acosta, of the Mexican Commission for the Defence and Promotion of Human Rights. She called for an impartial investigation by the Mexican Supreme Court. Gunmen in paramilitary uniform moved into the village of Acteal, in the state of Chiapas, on 22 December, when most menfolk were in the fields, killing 45 people, mostly women and children. The villagers were known to be sympathisers of Zapatista guerrillas who have been seeking better treatment for Indian peasants in the state. Most of the 50 gunmen arrested were found to be affiliated to the PRI. The local mayor, from the PRI, is under detention for providing the weapons.

Attorney-General Jorge Madrazo, a government appointee, said at the weekend that a father avenging the murder of his son, five days earlier, may have triggered the massacre. "The murder was the last link in a chain of wrongs which the attackers felt they had suffered, including murders, kidnappings, the burning down of homes and threats."

Pro-PRI and pro-Zapatista Chiapans had clashed regularly over the past four years, often over land. The situation is complicated by the fact that many PRI supporters are members of newly founded evangelical churches, while local Catholic priests, mostly advocates of liberation theology, have backed the Zapatistas.

A report by Mexico's National Human Rights Commission left no doubt that PRI officials had helped plan the massacre, while police turned a blind eye. The report quoted a witness as saying he saw police first capture some of the gunmen, then release them, giving them back their weapons.