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Humanitarian aid caravan is attacked in Oaxaca [Updated]

April 28, 2010 |  1:06 pm

San juan copala attack * Post updated below.

One person has been confirmed dead after an attack on an international humanitarian caravan near an autonomous municipality in Mexico's southern state of Oaxaca, several news outlets are reporting. The three-vehicle caravan was taking food and supplies Tuesday to San Juan Copala, a small Triqui ethnic community that has been blockaded by paramilitaries as part of a sustained conflict with the self-declared autonomous government of San Juan Copala.

Details on the attack remain scarce because Oaxacan state authorities have not been able to confirm the incident as of Wednesday and the area still appears to be blockaded, said Kristin Bricker, an independent American freelance journalist with extensive experience covering southern Mexico. Bricker has a report on the attack here.

On Tuesday afternoon, as the caravan passed the nearby town of La Sabana, gunmen hiding in roadside brush opened fire on the travelers, wounding at least 15 and reportedly kiling two, news reports said, citing non-official sources. German, Finnish, Italian, and Belgian citizens were traveling with the group as observers or volunteers. At least two journalists in the caravan have been reported "disappeared."

"This is far from the first time they've killed people from San Juan Copola," Bricker told La Plaza. "And it's not the first time they've attacked a caravan."

Al Jazeera has a report on the incident in English, noting that the community has been subjected to a series of attacks and blockades by suspected paramilitaries in recent years, resulting in several deaths. The gunmen in Tuesday's attack have been identited as members of a paramilitary group known by its Spanish acronym UBISORT. The group is said to be tied to the governing Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), La Jornada reports.

The group is labeled a paramilitary organization by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, but UBISORT has distanced itself from the incident, according to this report.

"UBISORT prior to the caravan sent out a communique saying they were not going to let the caravan pass through La Sabana, and they were not responsible for what could happen," Bricker said.

Bricker said one Mexican citizen is confirmed dead, identified as Alberta Cariño, director of the community radio group CACTUS, which was hit by an attack in 2008 that left two women dead. In the San Juan Copala attack this week, a Finnish citizen is also believed to have been killed but that report has not been confirmed.

The caravan group consisted of representatives of CACTUS, the state teacher's union, and APPO, the umbrella organization that led a popular uprising against Oaxaca state Gov. Ulises Ruiz in 2006. American independent journalist Brad Will was among those who died in confrontations between the APPO and government-alligned forces in the course of the conflict.

* UPDATE: The Associated Press has confirmed the death of Finnish citizen Jyri Antero Jaakkola in the San Juan Copala attack.

-- Daniel Hernandez, in Mexico City

Photo: A bloodied garment from an attack near San Juan Copala. Credit: ElUniversal.com.mx


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