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Journalists rescued after Oaxaca caravan attack

Copala journalists

Two Mexican journalists who went missing after a deadly ambush on an international humanitarian caravan in Oaxaca have been found and rescued, authorities said Friday.

Reporter Erika Ramirez and photographer David Cilia of the magazine Contralinea were among 27 people who were riding into the blockaded Triqui Indian town of San Juan Copala in western Oaxaca on Tuesday afternoon when suspected paramilitary gunmen attacked their caravan, killing two people. Contralinea reported Ramirez and Cilia missing, and word reached the magazine on Thursday that the two journalists were alive and looking for a way out of the area.

They  survived in the brush for nearly three days before being found by a rescue crew. Cilia had suffered a gunshot wound in the foot; both journalists are under medical observation in a nearby hospital.

Contralinea has coverage of the rescue here (in Spanish).

"I would like to say that if something happens to us, it's because of the slow action of the government," Ramirez says in a video posted at El Universal, reportedly filmed alongside the road where the ambush occurred. The video also depicts tense, whispered statements from wounded activists as the group attempts to evade the paramilitary forces in control of the area.

The attack has been blamed a paramilitary group known by its acronym UBISORT, which has blockaded and attacked San Juan Copala since the community declared itself autonomous in early 2007, part of an ongoing conflict with the state government. UBISORT is said to be tied to the governing Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI). The PRI engaged in a violent conflict in 2006 with a coalition of groups seeking the ouster of Gov. Ulises Ruiz.

Banners and signs were draped on the three caravan vehicles indicating that journalists and international observers were among the travelers to San Juan Copala, the Associated Press noted. The Oaxacan interior secretary, however, suggested that the five foreigners among the group were not adequately warned about the risks associated with travel into the disputed area.

The two people who died in the attack Tuesday have been identified as Beatriz Alberta CariƱo, a well-regarded Oaxacan activist, and Jyri Jaakkol, a Finnish human rights worker. Finland's government is demanding that Mexico fully investigate the incident.

"Paramilitaries have blocked access to the community with rocks and armed gunmen. And the teachers have been unable to give classes," freelance journalist Kristin Bricker told the left-leaning U.S. radio news program Democracy Now! on Friday. "And the paramilitary has cut off electricity and it cut off the water. The people of San Juan Copala are completely incommunicado. Nobody can enter. Nobody can leave."

In the meantime, says El Universal, peace between pro- and anti-government factions in the Triqui region will have to wait.

-- Daniel Hernandez in Mexico City

Photo: Journalists Erika Ramirez and David Cilia in a hospital in Juxtlahuaca, Oaxaca. Credit: Contralinea.com.mx

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