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SPECIAL REPORT: Mexican troops suppress Indian town

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TLALNEPANTLA, Mexico ? Hours after President Bush held a summit meeting in Monterrey several hundred miles north, Mexican troops stormed this indigenous village in the state of Morelos over the night of Jan. 14, leaving at least two dead and scores missing, according to on-the-scene reports reaching Indian Country Today.

This agricultural township of about 3000 people had just inaugurated an autonomous municipal council Jan. 11, rejecting the results of a state-sponsored election last year. According to the report reaching Indian Country Today, the council was modeled on the autonomous local governments of the Zapatista indigenous movement in Chiapas, which was just celebrating its tenth anniversary.

According to an eyewitness from the United States, who filmed some of the events, starting at 1 a.m. Jan. 14: "Riot police stormed the town, killing at least two and sending hundreds of campesinos running for cover. I saw helicopters hunting campesinos in the hillsides. It is a disaster."

The witness, whose identity is being withheld by this newspaper pending further communication, said the attack followed warnings from the state government against establishment of the autonomous council. After repeated threats from the government to dismantle the autonomous government in Tlalnepantla, Governor Sergio Estrada Cajigal ordered nearly 1500 riot police at 1 a.m., armed with assault rifles, to evict the autonomous government from Tlalnepantla.

"Snipers and police gunmen filled the air with bullets, beat women and men over 80 years of age, and left two dead, many wounded and scores of people disappeared and as of yet unaccounted for. Illegal searches were conducted in dozens of houses in the town."

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A spokesman for the federal government in Mexico City said that the incident was in charge of the state government of Morelos and that he would be unable to provide information. He did confirm, however, that the police in the raid were state and not federal. Morelos State, the smallest in the country, is currently controlled by the PAN, the conservative party led by Mexican President Vicente Fox.

According to the dispatch, establishment of the council and its suppression followed an electoral dispute last July. "Like thousands of indigenous communities in Mexico, and according to ancient custom," said the report, Tlalnepantla "has always elected its leaders in an open town council consisting of the entire adult population." In last July's elections, this way of selecting authorities was rejected by the Mexican electoral commission. The candidate who officially won at the polls was not selected by the full town assembly.

The winning candidate, with less than 10 percent of the electorate's vote, is an unpopular political boss who has been accused of corruption in other political offices he has held. A majority of the population of Tlalnepantla subsequently called for an annulment of the electoral results and legal recognition of its ancient form of selecting leaders, but the Morelos state government ignored their plea.

After months of discussion within the town, and in full accordance with the legal guarantees of the Mexican constitution, the people of Tlalnepantla declared themselves "autonomous" in the same way that EZLN [Zapatistia Army of National Liberation] affiliated indigenous communities in Chiapas have done. Tlalnepantla's declaration of autonomy came just as communities across Mexico and the world were celebrating the ten year anniversary of the uprising in Chiapas.

The town is 17 miles away from the historic center of Cuernavaca, where many foreign students attend language classes. It is said to be an important producer of the edible nopal cactus, an important staple of the Mexican diet, and also grows peaches and sugar cane.

But no further information about the situation was available over the holiday weekend. A duty officer at the U.S. State Department said no one was available on the Martin Luther King national holiday who would be aware of the events, and it appears not to have been reported in any major U. S. newspapers.