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Angry Indian Farmers Hold Police

July 11, 2002

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LOS LLANOS, Mexico (AP) _ Hundreds of Indians in southernmost Chiapas state were holding a pair of police officers hostage after the officers shot a man accused of illegal logging.

Officers Francisco Javier Perez and Oswaldo Arguello were patrolling a dense stretch of jungle 10 miles from the mountain city of San Cristobal De Las Casas on Wednesday when they spotted a Mayan farmer, Victor Gomez, who was allegedly cutting down trees that were protected by law.

Police spokesman Salvador Lopez said Gomez fled on foot, prompting the officers to draw their pistols and fire at him. After a lengthy chase, a bullet injured Gomez in the leg as he was running along a road not far from his home in the nearby town of Los Llanos, Lopez said.

As the officers called authorities in San Cristobal for backup, dozens of Gomez’s neighbors raced in from nearby fields and homes and attacked the officers, beating them before hauling them off to a makeshift jail cell near Los Llanos’ town square.

Many of those holding the officers prisoner than traveled to nearby villages to recruit dozens of other Indians to help guard the hostages and set up roadblocks near the entrance to Los Llanos, Lopez said.

Men armed with machetes were guarding the lone road leading into Los Llanos and refused to let state officials and journalists into town late Wednesday night.

City official Marcos Abadia ventured briefly out of Los Llanos to tell state negotiators that the officers were badly beaten and that the mob had threatened to kill them.

Abadia was acting as an intermediary between state officials and the crowd in negotiations that were expected to last well into Thursday, Lopez said.

Those guarding the town’s outskirts complained to journalists that police officers and soldiers in the area often wrongly accuse Indian farmers of cultivating drugs and of cutting down trees in protected forests.

Lopez denied that officers unfairly target Indians.

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