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Mexico Massacre Anniversary Marked

December 23, 1998

ACTEAL, Mexico (AP) _ Carrying wooden crosses, flowers and candles, about 4,000 rebel supporters marched Tuesday in southern Chiapas state to mark the first anniversary of the massacre of 45 Indian villagers in the hamlet of Acteal.

Villagers re-enacted the moments when pro-government gunmen on Dec. 22, 1997, burst into the hamlet and shot its residents.

As marchers passed an army outpost near the town, they shouted, ``Chiapas is not a barracks, army get out.″ The protesters have accused the soldiers of doing nothing to stop the massacre and of harassing survivors.

A government helicopter hovered overhead and security agents with video cameras manned roadblocks into the village, demanding that outsiders identify themselves.

During a yearlong investigation, most of the suspected killers identified themselves as supporters of Mexico’s ruling party, while the victims belonged to a group that sympathizes with the leftist Zapatista rebels. Many of those at Tuesday’s ceremonies wore masks or bandanas covering their faces, a style used by the rebels.

Roman Catholic Bishop Samuel Ruiz, whose diocese includes Acteal, called the massacre site ``a monument to (hopes for) peace nationally and internationally, and to the hope for resurrection.″

In a ceremony near the spot where the 45 mostly women and children who died that day are buried in a common grave, Antonio Gutierrez, who spoke on behalf of the mainly Tzotzil Indian survivors, told of the pain and defiance survivors feel.

``They have squeezed us in and beat us down, but they have not been able to crush us,″ Gutierrez said, referring to the state and federal governments, and the paramilitary groups that survivors say still operate in the hills near town.

The Zapatista rebels staged a brief armed uprising on New Year’s Day 1994, demanding greater democracy and Indian rights. Talks between the government and rebels have been stalled since 1996.

Only one of the 135 people arrested in connection with the massacre has been convicted.

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