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Army Tightens Noose Around EZLN

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31 August 1999

Army and Rebels at Stand Off Over Chiapas Road

As of Aug. 21 hundreds of indigenous supporters of Mexico's rebel Zapatista National Liberation Army (EZLN) continued to block efforts by the military and government to build a road through a remote region in the southeastern state of Chiapas.

In one of the most dramatic confrontations since the EZLN rebellion broke out in 1994, about 300 Tzeltal campesinos -- armed with flowers and wooden sticks and supported by 60 students and teachers from Mexico City and popular actress Ofelia Medina -- confronted about 500 elite army troops in the community of Amador Hernandez, located in the Amador Valley in the rebel municipality of Emiliano Zapata and the official municipality of Ocosingo, near the Montes Azules biosphere preserve in the Lacandon Jungle. As many as 15 people had been injured on both sides as of Aug. 18, mostly because of tear gas used by the military. [La Jornada (Mexico) 8/19/99, 8/21/99; Hoy (NY) 8/19/99 from EFE]

The confrontation follows a buildup of some 10,000 troops since the beginning of July in the region near Montes Azules, until now the only pro-EZLN part of the state with no major military presence. Authorities say some of the soldiers are engaged in reforesting work while the rest are guarding a private company building a road from Amador Hernandez to San Quintin for the benefit of the 30 local communities. But rebel supporters say the road is intended to smooth the way for military deployments. The confrontation at Amador Hernandez started on Aug. 12 after some 400 paratroopers parachuted into the area around community to support 100 soldiers already on the ground.

On Aug. 14 EZLN spokesperson "Insurgent Sub-Commander Marcos" reported on the confrontation to a rebel-sponsored meeting in La Realidad, several hours from Amador Hernandez. The meeting had been called to plan resistance to government plans to privatize national cultural resources, including ancient indigenous sites; the 400 participants included Medina; students and teachers from the National School of Anthropology and History (ENAH); and a few striking students from the Autonomous National University of Mexico (UNAM). An EZLN communique implied that the military buildup was a response to rebel support for the UNAM strike and for anti-privatization efforts. About 30 students and teachers formed a commission at the meeting that left for Amador Hernandez. [LJ 8/15/99] Another 30 joined them later. [LJ 8/19/99]

Some 60 non-governmental organizations met in Mexico City on Aug. 20 to plan sit-ins, marches, caravans and material aid shipments to support the campesinos in Amador Hernandez in an initiative called "SOS for Chiapas." At least two buses carrying some 60 students and strike activists left Mexico City for Amador Hernandez on Aug. 20, although the day before Chiapas interim governor Roberto Albores Guillen had threatened to arrest the students for "agitating and inciting rebellion." The state has also threatened to arrest Medina, and was reportedly preparing a large police operation to block the students. [EFE 8/20/99; Nuevo Amanecer Press-Europa 8/21/99 from APRO; LJ 8/21/99]

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