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U.N. Panel Urges Action in Chiapas

August 22, 1998

GENEVA (AP) _ Mexican authorities should punish those responsible for serious human rights abuses allegedly committed against Indians in the rebellious southern state of Chiapas, a U.N. panel of experts has said.

Hundreds of people have been killed in clashes between government and rebel supporters. In December, a pro-government paramilitary force massacred 45 residents of a village sympathetic to the rebels. Prosecutors say a top police official listened to gunshots for more than five hours without stopping the killing.

``Developments in the human rights situation in Mexico are becoming more and more disturbing,″ said a statement by members of the Sub-Commission on Prevention of Discrimination and Protection of Minorities.

The Mexican army has sent thousands of soldiers into the state to contain leftist Zapatista rebels, which critics say has fueled tension and created a climate of fear. Several vigilante groups have taken up arms.

The rebels, who began fighting in January 1994, have demanded greater democracy and rights for Chiapas’ dirt-poor Indian communities. Peace talks with the government have been at a standstill since 1996.

The government has cracked down on foreign involvement in Chiapas in recent months, expelling more than 150 people for allegedly violating Mexico’s law banning foreigners from political activities.

The sub-commission, which has been meeting in Geneva this month, said it regarded as encouraging and positive a Mexican government delegation statement apparently saying the authorities had decided to try to resolve the four-year conflict with the help of dialogue, without first requiring the rebels to hand over their arms.

But members urged the government to fully respect the international humanitarian law to which it has agreed and guarantee the safety of those trying to uphold human rights.

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