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Peace Corps Workers in Guatemala Called to Safer Areas

April 6, 1994

GUATEMALA CITY (AP) _ More than 200 Peace Corps volunteers in Guatemala have been told to leave rural areas for safer cities after a spate of attacks on foreigners.

″Some volunteers tell us that in some villages, mobile trucks with loudspeakers were ... announcing that foreigners steal children,″ Jack Leeth, deputy director of the program in Guatemala, told The Associated Press on Tuesday.

Villagers have beaten up at least three foreigners - two American tourists and a Swiss volcano specialist - in recent days after the victims were falsly accused of trying to steal children.

June Weinstock, 52, of Fairbanks, Alaska, remained in a coma Tuesday, a week after a large mob stabbed and beat her near the northern town of Coban.

For years, false rumors have circulated that Americans kidnap Central American children and take them to the United States, where their organs are removed and sold for transplants.

The accusations have always been denied and no proof has ever been presented to back up the charges. Officials say unsubstantiated news media accounts are largely to blame for incidents that have occurred. In Washington, Peace Corps national director Carol Bellamy said that as of noon Tuesday, 194 of the 206 volunteers in the country were accounted for.

She said they were told to pull back to the capital, Guatemala City, or the nearby colonial city of Antigua, both considered safe areas.

She said the volunteers initially were called back March 30, but communication to rural areas was difficult because of a strike halting the telegram system in the country.

Leeth said volunteers were expected to return to rural areas soon.

Last Thursday, the State Department advised U.S. citizens to put off non- essential travel to Guatemala and said those already in Guatemala should avoid crowds and traveling alone.

President Ramiro De Leon Carpio warned on Sunday that a state of emergency could be imposed if violence continues to sweep the country. He spoke one day after the Constitutional Court president was assassinated.

The country has experienced a sharp rise in violent crime this year and a recent wave of kidnappings as well as the attacks against foreigners. The violence comes as efforts to end the nation’s 33-year-old civil war begin to show signs of progress.

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