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Refugees from the conflict in Chiapas. Refugees from the conflict in Chiapas.

More than 1,000 people flee armed attacks in longstanding Chiapas dispute

Decades-old dispute between Aldama and Chenalhó flares up again

More than 1,000 indigenous Tzotzil people have been forced to flee their homes due to violent attacks in Aldama and Chenalhó, Chiapas. 

Men, women, children and the elderly have sought shelter this week due to renewed violence over a long-disputed, 60-hectare plot of land. Some have set up camps in the mountains to escape the gunfire while others are sheltering in sports stadiums or in private homes.

Adama’s conflict is with an armed group from Chenalhó that has continued for more than four decades. In October 2017, more than 5,000 Tzotzil people took refuge in 11 different camps without access to toilets or running water while the government did nothing to intervene, according to the National Human Rights Commission.

Yesterday, a contingent of 200 National Guard and state police officers were dispatched to the area to prevent violence after one man was killed and another injured in the exchange of gunfire, with each side of the conflict accusing the other of armed attacks.

Gunfire drove 80-year-old Adama resident María Méndez Ruiz to flee with other families to a house in the mountain town of Chivic, but her husband, Mariano Jiménez, 81, could not join her as his health is too frail. She fears he may die as he has nothing to eat.

More than 15 families, mostly women nursing infants, have taken refuge in a 20-square-meter house where they lack food and clothing. Some are also sick with colds.

Rosa Jiménez, who lives near the border with Chenalhó, fled to protect her five children: “Almost all night there are shots and the children are scared. I had to flee to find a safe area. In the mountains we are cold, there is a lot of suffering,” she said.

High-caliber gunfire forced Doña Julia López, her husband, daughter and her two grandchildren to leave their home, and they can still hear shots ring out from where they are sheltered. “We cannot spend the night quietly with our children, we are quite scared,” she told El Universal through tears.

Mariana, another of the displaced women, called on President López Obrador to intervene on behalf of the Tzotzil people, especially for the children who are suffering and have nothing to eat.

On July 30, Chenalhó and Aldama officials ratified a non-aggression pact but have chosen not to respect its terms. Fighting between the two communities resumed last week and is intensifying.

On Wednesday morning residents of Chenalhó took the body of the man who was killed to the state government building in Tuxtla Gutiérrez. They placed his coffin mounted on a stretcher alongside banners calling for justice for the 20 people they claim Aldama residents have murdered since the conflict between the communities began. 

State Government Secretary Ismael Brito Mazariegos asserts that the government continues to maintain “a serious and responsible dialogue with both parties” as it searches for a peaceful resolution to the conflict.

Yesterday, a group of armed men wearing masks and dressed in military fatigues and carrying assault rifles released a video demanding the release of two Chenalhó leaders who were detained last year. “The state government wants to pass our legitimate territorial right from Santa Martha to Aldama, and through political means it wants to fix this problem,” a man told the camera. “We know well that it won’t be solved through political means but through legal means, justice and equity.” 

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

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