Mexico mourns its dead

International outrage is growing over the massacre of 45 Mayan Indians in Mexico's troubled southern Chiapas province. Yet the state governor shows no sign of resigning.

Survivors of this week's violence in the community of Acteal buried those killed when paramilitary gunmen stormed through a makeshift camp in a blaze of automatic gunfire.

Bill Clinton, the United States President, expressed his outrage. "He condemned the attack as a violation of the most basic human values, and, on behalf of the American people, extends condolences to the families of the victims," Mike McCurry, a White House spokesman, said in a statement. France called on Mexico to investigate the paramilitary groups believed to be behind the massacre.

But Julio Cesar Ruiz Ferro, state governor of Chiapas, told reporters that he was not prepared to resign over the tragedy. "The task now is not to lay blame, now is the time to apply the law," he said in Tuxtla Gutierrez, the state capital.

The Mexican press has been baying for the governor's head. A Roman Catholic priest, Gonzalo Ituarte, had twice called Mr Ruiz's office with warnings of the carnage. Mr Ruiz said that his office had alerted police in the municipality of Chenalho after the first call and received assurances that nothing was amiss. The slaughter went on for five hours. Meanwhile, the shattered families of Acteal, in Chenalho, returned through the mountains to the scene of the killings, carrying white chrysanthemums and candles for a Christmas Eve Mass said over the victims' coffins by Bishop Samuel Ruiz in Spanish and by local leaders in the Tzotzil Indian language. "May those who did this find peace with their souls and with God, and may they rid themselves not only of their murderous weapons but also their attitude of hatred," the Bishop said.

Women keened over tiny blood-soaked coffins while state prosecutor's officials set up typewriters under a canopy of banana leaves to register the names of the dead.

"In a halfway civilised country, these things can't happen - or at least not without very serious consequences," the Rev Oscar Salinas said after assisting at the grave-side Mass. "But [in the past] the Mexican government has been very insensitive. ... I'm not optimistic things will change."

President Ernesto Zedillo has ordered an exhaustive hunt for the killers. On Thursday, the Federal Prosecutor, Pedro Madrazo, flew to Tuxtla Gutierrez to announce that 41 people were being detained for questioning. Four of the women killed were pregnant, he said, and almost all the victims had been shot in the back as they fled.

Monday's events were further clouded by survivors' testimony that the perpetrators were members of Mr Zedillo's own long-ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), but carried AK-47 rifles normally supplied only by the army. Some reports said the families sympathised with the EZLN (Zapatista National Liberation Army), led by Subcommandante Marcos, who staged a New Year's Day uprising against the government in 1994.

- Agencies

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