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Mexico: Rights Aides Have Visa Woes

February 21, 1998

OVENTIC, Mexico (AP) _ Immigration officials have notified several human rights observers that they may have violated conditions of their visas, heightening hostilities in the violence-torn Chiapas state.

The move came as 200 foreign human rights observers toured the southern state to probe a massacre of 45 unarmed Indians by government-linked gunmen in the village of Acteal on Dec. 22.

Xavier Joanpere of Spain was summoned to appear before immigration authorities as he and other observers traveled to the Zapatista rebel community of La Garrucha, near Ocosingo, Spanish Consul General Ramon Gandarias said Friday.

Joanpere is scheduled to report to authorities in San Cristobal de las Casas on Saturday, Gandarias said.

Group organizer Ignacio Garcia Garcia said the summons is a sign of bad faith on the part of the government, and said he would try to have it withdrawn.

``The irregularities (of Joanpere’s visa) are an administrative problem. We are not responsible for the errors that they (the officials) make,″ Garcia said.

Three other members of the group were questioned about their visas by immigration officials, Garcia said.

Observers have been stopped by immigration officials in at least three locations since Wednesday, when the observers began collecting testimony on the conflict that began with the Zapatista rebellion four years ago.

On Friday, observers met and talked with rebel supporters in five rebel communities.

Three Americans have been expelled this week.

Immigration officials denied any systematic harassment of foreigners.

But hotel, motel and restaurant association owners are publicly complaining the campaign _ which includes having immigration officers stop foreigners haphazardly in public places _ is scaring away tourists.

Three Americans were expelled earlier this week, part of a government crackdown on outsiders it believes help rebels of the Zapatista National Liberation Army.

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