Friday, June 14, 2024

Civilians killed in crossfire between cartels and National Guard in Chiapas

Dozens of civilians were caught in the crossfire of a gun battle between National Guard (GN) troops and presumed cartel gunmen on Sunday in the municipality of La Concordia, Chiapas, located off federal route 157 about 185 kilometers south of San Cristóbal de las Casas.

Initial unattributed reports indicated that one civilian had been killed and another severely wounded, but the Fray Bartolomé de las Casas Human Rights Center (Frayba) has since reported at least 25 people dead and a dozen or more wounded. 

Detail map of Chiapas showing San Cristobal de las Casas and La Concordia
The municipality of La Concordia is located 185 kilometers south of San Cristobal de las Casas. (Google Maps)

According to a statement published Wednesday afternoon by the federal Public Security and Civil Protection Ministry (SSPC), only five people were killed in the shootout on Sunday afternoon. An additional five men were found dead by federal and state security forces at the Nuevo Paraíso ejido, where there had been reports of a gunfight between armed civilians earlier that morning. 

This confirmed statements made by President Andrés Manuel López Obrador at his Wednesday morning press conference, in which he denied the human rights organization’s account.

“There were two separate incidents,” the president said. “[Frayba] talks about 25 victims, but that is not so. Instead, there were maybe 10 — five in one incident and five in the other.”

The shootout, according to the Frayba statement, occurred before noon on Sunday as roughly 40 people were waiting in vehicles to be ferried across the La Angostura reservoir, when the GN arrived in pursuit of armed civilians. 

Migrants standing in a ferry crossing the Angostura reservoir in Chiapas
Migrants in 2021 crossing the La Angostura reservoir in La Concordia. The crossing has become a route for migrants heading north, which has brought more organized crime to La Concordia as criminals target migrants. Local activists estimate a total of 2,300 residents of La Concordia and two nearby towns have been forced to leave their homes due to cartel violence. (Pedro Anza/Cuartoscuro)

A firefight ensued between the GN and the gunmen, with the civilians caught in the middle. Frayba reported the existence of videos — which they said had been taken by the GN — that appear to show that some victims had been shot in the head and may have been victims of extrajudicial killings by security forces. 

The news outlet Proceso published a video showing what appears to be civilian bystanders hiding behind their parked cars as the GN engaged in a firefight. 

The SSPC statement said 13 Guatemalan nationals had been arrested after the confrontation.

Frayba is demanding a full investigation, insisting that a massacre occurred, and accusing the GN of using excessive force. Frayba is also asking that the government’s security policy be overhauled and that soldiers not be used for policing duties.

Chiapas has seen an uptick in violence and forced displacements since criminal organizations began infiltrating the region, where they are vying for control of drug trafficking and human smuggling routes.

Another violent incident took place on Monday in the Chiapas city of Ocozocoautla, about 36 kilometers west of the state capital Tuxtla Gutiérrez.

According to the newspaper El Universal, shots were fired when heavily armed civilians kidnapped two unidentified men. Local officials said no bystander injuries occurred and state authorities have begun an investigation.

Just a week earlier, two people were killed and a third injured when a predawn shootout left early-morning commuters stranded while security forces shut down the main highways in Ocozocoautla for eight hours.

On March 19, gunmen ambushed a GN detail in Ocozocoautla, killing one and injuring two. The soldiers had responded to an apparent bogus emergency call reporting a vehicle accident when they were attacked on federal highway 145D. 

A few days earlier, hitmen attacked the local offices of the Federal Attorney General’s Office (FGR), killing an official. In February, a presumed cartel gang murdered three policemen and the police chief of Berriozabal, a city a few miles east of Ocozocoautla.

With reports from Proceso, Animal Político, La Jornada and El Universal

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