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American Priest Says Expulsion Does Not Bode Well for Chiapas Peace

June 27, 1995

MEXICO CITY (AP) _ An American priest expelled from Chiapas for allegedly encouraging land invasions and organizing poor Indians says his deportation was a blow to fragile efforts to resolve the 18-month-old Zapatista armed uprising.

American priest Loren L. Riebe was deported with two fellow clergymen, Rodolfo Izal Elorz of Spain and Jorge Alberto Baron Gultein of Argentina, for violating visa regulations prohibiting foreigners from political activity.

``I don’t know what the Mexican government is trying to tell the Zapatistas by picking up the three of us, except that they are not particularly concerned about the peace talks,″ Riebe said from Santa Monica, Calif.

Roman Catholic churchleader Samuel Ruiz, who leads the diocese where the three priests worked, has been serving as a mediator in the peace talks, and Riebe said the deportations apparently were meant as a message to Ruiz.

Three rounds of talks have been held this year without real progress, and a fourth is scheduled for July 4. The talks aim to answer demands made by armed Indians when they rebelled on Jan. 1, 1994.

Riebe said he was taken Thursday from Yajalon, a community of about 30,000 Tzeltal Indians near the Mayan ruins of Palenque, by armed men _ none wearing a uniform. All three men were deported Friday.

The Interior Ministry said Sunday the priests encouraged peasants to seize lands, threatened some Chiapas residents and sought to proselytize their own political views.

``The official communique said we were involved in politics. These statements are totally false, ridiculous,″ said Riebe, a former Los Angeles diocesan priest who worked in Chiapas for 20 years.

The three priests ministered to isolated parishes in Chiapas, where many Indian villages support the rebels and many others are divided over whether to support the Zapatistas or the government.

``There are no rebels in our area,″ said Riebe.

He said that as a foreigner, he stayed on the sidelines of the peace talks.

But critics have claimed Ruiz was a proponent of a Marxist-oriented philosophy of helping the poor called liberation theology, that church leaders inspired the rebellion and were actively involved _ charges he denied.

The Interior Ministry statement said Riebe had not had the appropriate immigration papers for years. But most Catholic religious workers in Mexico did not begin regularizing their papers until after the Vatican and Mexico formally restored diplomatic ties in 1992 after a long rift.

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