Displaced people from Chalchihuitán. Displaced people from Chalchihuitán.

‘Atmosphere of terror’ in Chiapas: church

Aid is getting through to 5,000 displaced people but threat of violence continues

More aid is arriving for displaced Tzotzil people of Chalchihuitán, Chiapas, after a roadblock was lifted Tuesday.

An estimated 5,000 people have been forced to flee their homes during the past month due to a territorial conflict with the neighboring municipality of Chenalhó.

The three roads into Chalchihuitán had been blocked by people from Chenalhó but one is now open although under condition that it can only be used to deliver humanitarian aid.

Aid convoys were having to use a roundabout route before the road was opened, a move that was followed by the apprehension by Chenalhó residents of seven government officials who were held for the next 10 hours.

“There were about a thousand people,” one of the victims told the newspaper El Universal. “We were manhandled and even pelted with eggs, and we were kept in a truck.” The seven men, five from the Civil Protection office and two from the Interior Secretariat, were released early yesterday.

After the roadblock was removed, some Chalchihuitán residents attempted to use the road in search of food supplies but they were prevented from doing so by their Chenalhó neighbors.

The Chalchihuitán parish priest said the roadblocks and the tense situation is keeping over 20,000 people in 37 villages from leaving the area of conflict.

The violence between the two municipalities dates back to the 1970s, when the federal government enacted a series of agrarian reforms that established the territorial limits between them.

Instead of following the natural boundary of a river the government decided that the border between the two communities should be an arbitrary straight line. This decision forced both to give away land, generating the conflict.

The Catholic Church in San Cristóbal de las Casas said there was “an atmosphere of terror” in the region that could become more deadly than the Acteal massacre of 1997, when 45 people were killed.

The diocese charged that authorities have failed to offer a solution to the humanitarian crisis.

It called on Governor Manuel Velasco Coello to address the violence in the region, warning that many the armed individuals represented a danger to the people of Chalchihuitán.

Non-governmental organizations continue to warn that the displaced people are living under precarious conditions. The Serapaz (Peace Advisory Services) group said many are sick, especially children, seniors and pregnant women.

The state Civil Protection office reported it has begun taking an official census of the displaced people in order to be able to offer them shelter elsewhere.

Source: El Universal (sp), Univisión (sp)

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