Urgent Action
Urgent Action - Chiapas, Mexico

Notes from SIPAZ - San Cristobal de las Casas, Chiapas, January 3, 1998  

- A step away from the point of no return

Despite the massive presence of national security forces (State and federal police and the Mexican Army) the recent massacre in the village of Acteal that shocked Mexico and the entire world has marked just the beginning of a new wave in the escalation of violence in Chiapas.

What we are seeing could be the final push for a "once-and-for-all" neutralization of the Zapatistas.

In the last days of 1997 and the first days of 1998, several communities thought to be sympathetic with the Zapatistas were subjected to intense harassment. Although more than three thousand new troops have been deployed in the municipality of Chenhalo, their presence appeared to be not so much to investigate the massacre, but rather to occupy and control EZLN territory.

On January 3, several conflicting press reports were released concerning the Federal Army's "occupation" of the Zapatista stronghold, La Realidad. In a press conference that evening, Gonzalo Ituarte, Secretary of the National Mediation Commission, said the occupation of the civil resistance center for several hours had been confirmed by several sources. Considering the number of confrontations, overhead flights, and military incursions into EZLN-held territory, it is clear that there has been a systematic wave of misinformation that has added to the generalized confusion and anxiety. It would appear, however, that if the rumors are confirmed, the Mexican Army might be acting in violation of the "Law for Dialogue for Reconciliation and Peace in Chiapas".

It is inconceivable that with the imposing police and military presence in the area that violent acts continue to interfere with a proper investigation of the massacre. It is unconscionable that a team from the Network of NGOs and HumanRights Organizations offering legal aid and also another group of peasants delivering humanitarian aid were blocked by PRI-sympathizers from reaching the thousands of stranded, displaced victims at Polho.

In Xoyep, witnesses reported that several refugees were beaten "on their faces and feet" by the military following a civilian protest that occurred when on January 2, a military detachment set up camp by the town water well.

Civic organizations have expressed concerns that the Seventh Regional Division of the military intends to intensify patrols and search operations in the "conflict area" (the Lacandon Jungle, the Northern Zone and the Highlands) where the Zapatista bases are located. A military operation against the Zapatistas is expected, similar to that which took place in February 1995.

We ask that the national and international communities be aware of these developments. Unimaginable atrocities could easily occur in these "no-man's lands" that would only lead to more anguish and confusion. The situation is most critical. The authorities must act responsibly and with absolute clarity to avoid bringing the situation to a point of no return that history will forever regret.

Given the tenuous situation, most probably we will be issuing an Urgent Action requesting your intervention to urge that the conflicts of Chiapas be resolved through dialogue and understanding.

The SIPAZ team
International Service for Peace (Servicio Internacional para la Paz or SIPAZ) is a response from the international community to the shared sense among many Mexican sectors that international opinion can contribute to the search for peaceful solutions, through dialogue, to the conflict in Chiapas.

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Subject: "Mexico Forward" Urgent Action
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