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Mexican Newspaper Said Facing Threats

June 28, 2005

MEXICO CITY (AP) _ Amnesty International issued an alert on Monday about threats to the safety of 31 newspaper employees barricaded inside their offices for more than 11 days by sympathizers of a pro-government union.

Since June 17, the employees of the newspaper Noticias in southern Oaxaca state have lived on canned food, surrounded by a picket line organized by the Revolutionary Confederation of Workers and Peasants, or CROC, a union group led by a ruling-party legislator.

``The employees of the newspaper Noticias ... have been threatened and intimidated by members of a union controlled by the state government,″ the London-based rights group said in a statement.

The state government says the dispute is a strike, calling it an employer-worker problem in which it has played no role. But none of the 100 to 200 picketers outside the paper _ which has fiercely criticized the state government _ appear to be newspaper employees.

``The situation is pretty desperate for many of us,″ said Noticias Director Ismael San Martin in a telephone interview. ``They had said they are going to knock down the doors with a truck and take us out of here.″

``They have tried to shove the doors open, they have shouted threats at us, they have fired shots into the air,″ said San Martin, noting that, while the CROC is formally registered as the newspaper’s union, all 102 unionized employees oppose the ``strike.″

San Martin said the picket line was an attempt by the state government to silence the newspaper.

No one was available at the CROC national office to comment on the dispute. The CROC is reportedly demanding a 25 percent wage increase.

State officials have said the law prohibits them from interfering with the picket line.

The picketing came seven months after a gang of farmers staged a violent takeover of a warehouse belonging to the newspaper. The paper also accused the state government of being behind that attack, which officials described at the time as a land dispute.

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