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In Mexico, Armed Men Force Thousands Of People Out Of Chiapas


Mexico's southern state of Chiapas has seen a lot of violence in the past decades. In the 1990s, there was a lot of conflict after the uprising of the socialist revolutionary Zapatistas. The worst crime left 45 people dead, mostly women and children. This unresolved conflict has been ignited again in what observers are now calling a humanitarian crisis. James Fredrick has the story.

MARCELO PEREZ: (Speaking Spanish).

JAMES FREDRICK, BYLINE: "Were arriving," says Father Marcelo Perez after hours driving a beaten-up dirt road and then a couple more hiking.

PEREZ: (Speaking Tzotzil).

FREDRICK: Father Marcelo meets this group of a few dozen Mayan Tzotzil people. He translates from their native language into his camera phone.

PEREZ: (Speaking Spanish).

FREDRICK: "There's about 20 families here," he reports. Women and children huddle under the only thing that could be called a structure - a little lean-to made out of a single piece of tin roofing. He moves on and finds another group. One of the older women is sobbing.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: (Speaking Tzotzil).

FREDRICK: He translates again.

PEREZ: (Speaking Spanish).

FREDRICK: She tells him how they burned her corn and beans fields - everything. Now she sleeps in the mountains hungry and with a hurting heart. In October, after a series of murders, armed men began forcing these villagers out of their homes. In a month, an estimated 5,000 people have been displaced.

PEREZ: (Speaking Spanish).

FREDRICK: Father Marcelo says, "they have no blankets, no food because the roads have been blocked. They're living in totally inhumane conditions."

Paramilitaries are preventing aid organizations from getting in. The conflict that displaced these people is not simple or new, says Jorge Hernandez from the Chiapas-based human rights group Fray Bartolome.

JORGE HERNANDEZ: (Speaking Spanish).

FREDRICK: He explains that there's a deadly combination of factors here - historical territorial conflict between two communities, a political shakeup in one of the towns, and an abundance of weapons from the era of counterinsurgency.

More than a month after displacement began, the state government finally says it's sending food aid and paramedics to the region, though it's not clear how many of the displaced they've been able to reach. For NPR News, I'm James Fredrick in Mexico City.