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Land Dispute Blamed in Police Ambush that Killed 17 Police

February 15, 1986

MEXICO CITY (AP) _ A 45-year-old feud between residents of two small towns in southwestern Mexico led to an ambush that killed 17 policemen sent to the remote area to stop the fighting, authorities said Friday.

The Oaxaca Attorney General’s Office said the police were attacked by ″a numerous group of armed bandits″ sometime before dawn Wednesday as they patrolled a road between San Baltazar and San Nicolas Yaxe.

Two peasants, believed to have been among the assailants, were also killed, according to the Attorney General’s statement. It did not say whether the policemen fired their guns, but identified 11 as local officers and six as state policemen.

The ambush occurred about 30 miles southwest of Oaxaca, the capital of the southwestern Mexican state of the same name.

The area has long been known as a marijuana-growing zone, but the Attorney General’s statement did not mention narcotics.

A federal judicial police officer said Thursday night the officers were killed in an ambush by alleged drug traffickers. The officer, who refused to be identified, said an 18th police officer was missing.

Telephone calls to the Attorney General’s Office in Oaxaca on Friday were referred to the governor’s office, where a secretary said information would be released later. Telephone calls in the afternoon were unanswered.

Officials did not explain the lapse in time between the attack and the first public reports and did not speculate on reasons for the attack.

The Attorney General’s statement blamed the continuing violence on a ″group of delinquents from San Baltazar Chichicapan which had dedicated itself to committing innumerable aggressions, intimidations, burning of crops, armed attacks and attacks on communications lines.″

The police were among about 80 sent to San Baltazar Chichicapan and San Nicolas Yaxe after violence broke out last weekend, the Attorney General’s statement said.

However, the national news service of the newspaper Excelsior quoted Attorney General Jaime Lopez Farias as saying police had restored calm in the area but that more confrontations were possible.

Authorities said the violence began with shots fired Feb. 8 at a bus in San Baltazar Chichicapan. Four carloads of police entering the town Tuesday to investigate were fired on by at least 15 people, leaving two officers wounded and two peasants dead, local authorities said.

Excelsior quoted local residents as saying police had drawn resentment in San Baltazar for their treatment of some individuals, although authorities would not speculate on reasons for the attack.

The village feud began in 1941 over 4,940 acres of land, part of an area granted to San Baltazar Chichicapan by presidential order.

According to Excelsior, at least 20 people have died in sporadic violence between the towns.

Last year, the slaughter of 21 police and drug agents in adjacent Veracruz state on Nov. 2 also went unpublicized for more than 24 hours. Communications in the small, remote towns are often slow.

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