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Mexican Families Flee in Fear Again

October 18, 2000

YIBELJOB, Mexico (AP) _ Hundreds of families who fled their village in Mexico’s Chiapas state after 45 villagers were massacred three years ago packed up again Tuesday for fear that paramilitaries had arrived at their new home.

Carting chickens, clothes, pots and other belongings, more than 500 men, women and children left X’oyep and headed six miles down the road to the mountain village of Yibeljob.

They carried a Mexican flag and a white flag as a sign of peace on their journey. Arriving at midday, they started building shelters for themselves yet again. A group led by elders knelt down and prayed, then sprinkled their new patch of land with holy water.

Their plight is fallout from the long Indian uprising in Chiapas: The Zapatistas rebel group rebelled here in 1994 demanding more rights for the region’s impoverished Indians, and though the conflict has been halted by a cease-fire since that year, scores of people have been killed in clashes between rebels and armed pro-government paramilitary squads.

In December 1997, when the new Yibeljob villagers were living in the mountain village of Acteal, 45 Tzotzil Indians were massacred there. Forty-five indigenous members of a pro-government paramilitary group are serving 35 years in prison for the attack.

The massacre forced as many as 8,000 to 10,000 residents to flee their homes and take shelter in other villages. The villagers who fled X’oyep on Tuesday were among them. They decided to move on again amid talk that paramilitaries has drawn near to their homes.

``The indigenous people of Chiapas live with the fear of being chased and threatened by paramilitaries,″ said Diego Santis, who left X’oyep with his family.

Peace talks in Chiapas have been at a stalemate.

Mexican President-elect Vicente Fox has pledged to try to restart peace talks with the Zapatistas by meeting some of their demands: pulling back federal troops and pushing Zapatista-backed Indian rights legislation. Fox, the first president from an opposition party in seven decades, takes office on Dec. 1.

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