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Mexican Farmers Release Captives

June 4, 2002

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MEXICO CITY (AP) _ Farmers protesting the construction of a new international airport outside Mexico City have released a Bulgarian engineer and five Mexican workers they took captive last week as punishment for conducting airport-related studies on their land.

Bulgarian citizen Krassimir Kirilov and the five Mexicans were seized Friday in the small town of San Salvador Atenco, on the outskirts of the capital, while carrying out studies for a Spanish company that plans to build three highways as part of the new airport. About 150 machete-wielding farmers released the captives in front Mexico’s Supreme Court on Monday afternoon.

San Salvador Atenco is one of several communities comprising the area known as Texcoco, where the six-runway, $2.3 billion airport is to be built. Residents are protesting government attempts to expropriate their lands for the 11,000-acre project, which would swallow up much of the municipality.

The farmers of San Salvador Atenco captured the workers Friday to protest what they said was a violation of a court injunction preventing any airport-related projects from taking place on the land.

Mexico state Attorney General Alfonso Navarrete Prida said his office would investigate the hostage-taking, the government news agency Notimex reported.

Ivan Likov, a spokesman for the Bulgarian Embassy in Mexico, said the farmers had treated Kirilov very well.

The government’s expropriation order gives residents as little as 60 cents per square yard of land, a price they call ridiculously low. Many say they oppose the airport regardless of what they are offered.

Mexico City’s existing airport, a 91-year-old facility on the eastern edge of town, cannot be expanded because it is bordered on three sides by urban areas. Only one runway can be used at a time.

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