Displaced indigenous people returning to their homes in Chalchihuitan are going "straight to the slaughterhouse," warn NGOs and civil society groups following the case.
More than 5,000 people from Chalchihuitan in Mexico driven from their homes late last year by fear of paramilitary violence are returning home, where NGOs warn they face a "clear risk of massacre."
The conflict centres on a territorial dispute between the neighoring tzotzil communities of Chalchihuitan and Chenalho. The legal issue started in 1975, when the now-vanished Land Reform Ministry mistakenly gave both communities rights over 350 hectares.
In a letter written to NGOs and civil society groups, the community announced its return to Chalchihuitan on January 2 and blamed the government for not taking appropiate safety measures. People have lost their crops, animals, homes and possessions, they said, and felt compelled to return to address the situation.
The group of NGOs, which includes the Fray Bartolome de las Casas Human Rights Center and also blames the authorities for failing to disarm the paramilitary groups or provide much-needed support to the displaced, warned in response that "the risk of a massacre is clear."
Shots from weapons such as AK-47s and R-15s can still be heard across the disputed territory. Last month, four displaced children died of hunger and cold temperatures as they waited for a safe return home.
Several NGOs and associations have denounced the new mayor of Chenalho, Rosa Perez Perez from the Green Party, who has been supporting the armed groups. The state government of Chiapas, meanwhile, has done nothing to stop the violence.
On October 18, Samuel Perez Luna from Chalchihuitan was working on his crops when he was shot dead by unknown assassins. His land was located in the territory that his community has been disputing with neighboring Chenalho.
Both communities have been accused of using violence in the dispute, but last year's offensive by an alleged paramilitary group of Chenalho succeeded in driving thousands of people from their homes.