Thousands flee Mexico terror gangs

Convoys of heavily armed troops, church workers and volunteers are escorting thousands of frightened Tzotzil Indians from at least three villages where armed bands have ruled by threats and violence since March. The gangs, loyal to Mexico's ruling party, are blamed for the massacre of 45 people a week ago in Chiapas state, where guerrillas of the Zapatista National Liberation Army have waged a four-year-old insurgency aimed at securing rights for the region's poor Indians.

The evacuees (pictured left) are being taken to Polho, a village populated mainly by Zapatista sympathisers. Red Cross workers said as many as 3,500 people may be making their way here. The gangs began forming and arming themselves in March, and exploited local farmers in this lush coffee-growing area near the Guatemalan border. - AP, Polho

Photograph: Douglas Engle