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At Least 3 Hurt in Chiapas Clash

July 19, 1999

SAN CRISTOBAL DE LAS CASAS, Mexico (AP) _ A gun battle between Roman Catholics and evangelical Protestants has left at least three people wounded in the southern state of Chiapas, government officials said Monday.

It was the latest violence between the two groups, which have carried on a decades-long feud over their religious beliefs and cultural practices.

Manuel Collaso Gomez, head of the Organization of the Evangelical People of the Highlands, said witnesses told him by telephone that seven people _ Catholics and Protestants _ were killed in the dispute Sunday in the remote village of Icalumtic, but government investigators denied any deaths.

The state secretary in charge of Indian affairs, Gustavo Moscoso Zenteno, said the clash broke out when three evangelical Protestants from another village arrived in Icalumtic to preach.

Catholics in the town, part of the mountain municipality of San Juan Chamula six miles northeast of San Cristobal de las Casas, opened fired. Three Catholics were wounded in the clash, one of them suffering a gunshot wound to the head, Moscoso said.

The state deputy prosecutor for Indian justice, Francisco Demesa Hernandez, said he had visited the town and found only three people wounded, none dead.

Dozens of state police were sent to Icalumtic to maintain order.

Protestants estimate that since 1974, dozens of Protestants have been killed and 25,000 others have been driven out of Indian villages in San Juan Chamula municipality by neighbors who feel they threaten cultural, religious, economic and political traditions.

Local Catholics, most of them Tzotzil Indians, practice pre-Hispanic Mayan Indian beliefs mixed with Roman Catholic liturgy.

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