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Official Indicted in Mexico Deaths

January 3, 1998

TUXTLA GUTIERREZ, Mexico (AP) _ A federal judge has indicted the top county official in southern Chiapas where 45 Mexican villagers were massacred last month. Despite his connections, prison authorities say Jacinto Arias Cruz is not getting special treatment.

Arias Cruz, the head of Chenalho county in southern Chiapas state is charged with causing injuries, criminal association and illegal weapons possession in the Dec. 22 massacre in Acteal, prosecutors said Friday.

Arias Cruz and 45 other men held in connection with the massacre are being treated like ordinary prisoners at Cerro Hueco prison _ sleeping on concrete bunks, two to an 8-by-10-foot cell, prison director Eduardo Coutino Arrazola said.

Witnesses said Arias Cruz supplied weapons to the attackers, according to Roberto Villarreal, spokesman for the Attorney General’s Office.

Survivors of the slaughter and local Roman Catholic Church officials in Chiapas state have accused members of the governing Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI, of complicity. Prosecutors said Arias Cruz, a PRI supporter, would not be eligible for bail.

Prison officials said Arias Cruz has denied responsibility for the massacre and refuses to speak with press.

Cerro Hueco prison once had a fearsome reputation as a place where local Indians were held without formal charges for months, with no access to lawyers who spoke their Mayan languages.

But the prison, which holds 870 inmates, also features a huge, park-like exercise yard where prisoners can lift weights and buy cigarettes, chewing gum and toothpaste.

Many prisoners weave colorful hammocks from string, and family members are allowed to visit throughout the day. The massacre suspects have been allowed visits from their families and lawyers, prison officials said.

Prison authorities were worried that incarcerating Arias Cruz and the others could pose a security risk, since Zapatista prisoners also are housed at the facility.

Prosecutors say the victims were sympathizers of the Zapatista rebel movement.

``When the prisoners first came, I was concerned because there are Zapatista prisoners inside these walls,″ Coutino said, adding he had feared violence between the two groups of prisoners.

But one prisoner who refused to give his name said: ``We have no problem with them (the massacre suspects), because we are from different villages, different places.″

Investigators, meanwhile, have uncovered a small cache of arms buried outside the home of a suspect. The two .22-caliber rifles, a shotgun, a revolver and ammunition ``are similar to those used Dec. 22 in Acteal,″ the Attorney General’s Office said in a statement Friday.

The weapons were unearthed in the village of Quextic, less than a half-mile from Acteal, where the group of mostly women and children was slain in an attack that shocked Mexico.

Witnesses said attackers used weapons ranging from machetes to AK-47 assault rifles and .22-caliber hunting guns.

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