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Land Dispute Leaves 9 Dead in Guatemala

July 14, 2006

GUATEMALA CITY – At least nine campesinos died, eight others were injured and three were reported missing in a clash with guards at a ranch in northern Guatemala that the campesinos tried to occupy, police said Sunday.

A National Civilian Police spokesman in the city of Coban said the fatal conflict occurred July 8 at the Moca ranch in Senahu, a community located about 260 kilometers north of Guatemala City.

Of those killed, five were women, according to police.

Campesino leader Mateo Yat told reporters that security guards at the ranch opened fire when a group of some 230 families tried to occupy the property peacefully.

The ranch, Yat said, “historically has been the property of our great-grandfathers, grandfathers, fathers and now ours.”

He claims that the campesinos had been stripped of their rights by people claiming to be the true property owners.

Last weekend’s clash marks the third time that the campesinos had been evicted from the ranch.

According to local radio reports, security guards opened fire on the campesinos with automatic rifles and pistols.

Yat claims the missing people were thrown into a nearby river by the guards.

Landless campesinos have occupied about 20 private ranches and 10 state-owned properties in Guatemala.

The Central American nation is plagued by unequal distribution of land; official figures show 80% of arable ranch land is in the hands of 2% of the population.

In April, 14 people were injured and 30 others arrested during scattered protests across Guatemala by thousands of campesinos demanding land reform.

Last month, armed squatters wounded an army officer and a police officer, and took seven park rangers and another police officer hostage in northern Guatemala. The eight men were captured by the group of 40 squatters in the Sierra de Lacandon mountains, in province of Peten, bordering Mexico and Belize.

The squatters wanted to pressure authorities into giving them legal title to the lands they were occupying, officials said.

 

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