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Chiapas Priests Fear Retaliation

August 26, 1995

SAN CRISTOBAL DE LAS CASAS, Mexico (AP) _ One hundred Roman Catholic priests, nuns and lay people who work for a controversial bishop filed for legal protection from arrest in southern Chiapas state, local newspapers reported Saturday.

The group traveled to Tuxtla Gutierrez, the capital, on Friday to seek an ``amparo,″ a kind of injunction that prevents authorities from acting against them.

``We are afraid for our safety and we prefer to protect ourselves against any arbitrary action,″ Father Felipe Toussaint, vicar general of the San Cristobal de las Casas Diocese said in Saturday’s editions.

Diocesan workers have been accused of helping and even being members of the rebel Zapatista National Liberation Army, which rose up Jan. 1, 1994, demanding democracy and better living conditions for Chiapas Indians.

Bishop Samuel Ruiz, a long-time proponent of the rights of the indigenous and the poor, has been a chief target of the criticism, which has extended to his priests and pastoral agents. Ruiz is a key mediator in peace talks to end the conflict, now in its nineteenth month.

In June, three foreign priests were abducted by police, blindfolded and deported by the federal Interior Ministry.

Father Loren Riebe of Los Angeles, among the deportees, has denied government charges the priests were inciting peasants to take over land and urging them to support the rebels. Mexico’s Constitution prohibits churches from any political activity, and was only recently amended to allow Mexican priests and nuns to vote.

``The Mexican priests will be next,″ Father Heriberto Cruz Vera, of a parish near Riebe’s, said.

Harassment and false accusations of other priests continue, Toussaint said.

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