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Widow Says Soldiers Shot Her Husband As He Lay on Ground

February 22, 1995

LA GRANDEZA, Mexico (AP) _ The government says Gilberto Jimenez Hernandez was killed in a shootout with soldiers. His widow says he was shot in the head as he lay on the ground, his hands bound.

The death was only the second killing confirmed by authorities since soldiers began their advance into former Zapatista rebel territory in southern Mexico on Feb 10. An army officer was killed on the first day.

Elena Gomez said Tuesday that she was sitting with her husband under a pine tree, breast-feeding her infant daughter, when soldiers approached and fired guns into the air.

Soldiers beat Jimenez Hernandez, about 40, and the couple’s son, Manuel Jimenez Gomez, 19, and tied them up, the Tzeltal Indian woman said, speaking through a translator in this village about 50 miles east of San Cristobal de las Casas.

Then, as Gomez and another young daughter watched, a soldier shot the elder Jimenez in the eye, she said.

The federal Attorney General’s office said soldiers killed Jimenez Hernandez, whom the government identified as a rebel, when four men attacked them Monday with large-caliber weapons.

On Tuesday, an army helicopter took away Manuel Jimenez Gomez and two other men, identified by villagers as Sebastian Mena Lopez and Ramiro Alfonso Hernandez. The helicopter also took the body of Jimenez Hernandez.

The dead man’s family would not say whether they support the Zapatistas. But it was unlikely Jimenez Hernandez was a regular soldier in the rebel army, which disallows men with three or more children. The deceased man, who raised corn and coffee beans on this rocky, windswept terrain, left 12 children.

President Ernesto Zedillo sent in federal troops to control a rebellion that has simmered since the Zapatista National Liberation Army rose up on Jan. 1, 1994, demanding better living conditions for Mexico’s poor.

At least 145 people died in 12 days of fighting before a cease-fire was called. The tenuous truce remained in effect until early this month, as both sides appeared to be preparing for peace talks.

The government crackdown in Chiapas has emboldened ranchers in the state, who accuse the Zapatistas of stealing their cattle herds.

``This was our work of 30 years,″ said rancher Alberto Urbina, who claimed his family had lost some 1,300 head of cattle since the uprising began. ``Now, it’s all gone.″

Many ranchers have accused Roman Catholic Biship Samuel Ruiz, who mediated last year’s peace talks, of fomenting the rebellion and even of hiding guns in his cathedral in San Cristobal de las Casas. Ruiz has denied the charges.

On Sunday the cathedral was the site of a violent clash between parishoners and the town’s landowners and businessmen. State army police armed with plastic shields, tear gas canisters and semi-automatic rifles guarded the building Tuesday.

A group of ranchers was planning to march today outside the building to demand that Ruiz leave the state.

Meanwhile, the army has moved ever deeper into semi-tropical valleys like this one where indigenous villagers support the guerrillas.

Most people fled this and a neighboring village high on a cloud-draped mountain as soldiers advanced.

Rosario Mena Hernandez, 20, gathered her five children and fled to the forest with many of the 200 or so people here.

Mena, holding her 5-month-old son, wept as she described how soldiers had found her on the mountain and burned a small bag of diapers, childrens’ clothes and family documents.

Soldiers also entered houses, apparently searching for weapons. Distraught villagers showed their homes with clothes strewn everywhere, baskets of vegetables overturned and papers littering the floor.

By Tuesday, at least 100 soldiers had made their camp in the patch of field that serves at the village plaza.