More survivors of Mexico ambush emerge from bush
Posted: Friday, April 30, 2010 8:03 pm
By MORGAN LEE
Associated Press Writer
OAXACA, Mexico (AP) — More survivors emerged Thursday from the countryside where a convoy of Mexican and European rights activists and journalists was ambushed two days earlier in an attack that killed two people.
Two journalists remained missing in the remote area of southern Mexico. Their publication, Contralinea magazine, said two activists who were able to return said the journalists were not killed in the shooting.
The magazine urged authorities to find reporter Erika Ramirez and photographer David Cilia, whose foot was wounded by gunfire.
“If it turns out they die, it will be from hunger or thirst because Oaxaca’s government has not moved out the paramilitaries,” Contenido said in a statement, referring to militants affiliated with the government who are suspected in the attack.
Most of those who escaped the ambush Tuesday afternoon hid in the bush, then made their way to a nearby settlement that is not involved in the political disputes that have riven the Indian town of San Juan Copala for years.
The survivors then made their way to the state capital, also called Oaxaca.
Targets of the attack included members of a radical leftist movement that seized control of the Oaxaca capital for five months in 2006, and there were fears a long-standing conflict between the group and the state government could be reignited.
The convoy members killed were Finnish human rights activist Jyri Jaakkola and Mexican political activist Beatriz Carino Trujillo.
Two Mexican activists who had not been seen since the ambush, David Venegas and a wounded Noe Bautista, emerged safely Thursday with a video taken of journalists Ramirez and Cilia.
Five Europeans participated in the convoy of 27 people, who were traveling in four cars covered with banners declaring that press and international observers were on board. Two of the foreigners were from Finland, but the nationality of the others was not clear.
The convoy was headed to San Juan Copala, a remote mountain town populated largely by Triqui Indians. A violent dispute between rival political factions has cut off basic supplies and services to residents of the town.
Meri Marjaana Mononen of Finland told The Associated Press on Thursday that she was invited by a civic group on a humanitarian mission to document the suffering of people reportedly living without schools, electricity and food, but found herself watching a friend die in a war zone.
“This was a scene from a war with so many bullets without end,” said Mononen, a resident of Helsinki who said she was in Oaxaca as a representative of the Finnish Union for Peace.
The body of Jaakkola, 33, was recovered from a bullet-riddled SUV on Wednesday. He appeared to have been shot in the head.
State police said it took them a full day to get the bodies amid concerns rescuers might be attacked, too. They were scouring the rugged area Thursday for the missing journalists.
Mononen said she was seated behind Jaakkola when the caravan found the highway blocked with large rocks. Shots rang out and bullets perforated the windshield.
She wondered why her friend and colleague didn’t bend down for cover.
“I’m saying to him, ‘Get down, get down,”’ Mononen, recalling the events two days later. “He isn’t moving much and I can see that he’s bleeding like this. It’s a horror movie.”
Jaakkola was a member of a small, Finnish civil rights group, Uusi Tuuli (New Wind), based in the southwestern city of Turku. He traveled to Mexico about two months ago on his own initiative, financing the trip mainly with his savings, and planned to stay a year advocating for human rights, group spokesman Jani Nevala said.
“We shall continue this work even more vigorously than before,” Nevala told the AP in Finland. “We are trying to help the indigenous people of Mexico, where during the past few years human rights have been trod upon.”
Mononen said she and her European colleagues were warned of conflict in the area, but didn’t imagine they could be targeted.
“We knew that in Oaxaca these things happen, but clearly we never had thought that this type of thing could happen while we’re there,” Mononen said.
Finland’s Foreign Ministry withheld comment on the attack pending a report from the Finnish Embassy in Mexico.
The missing Contralinea staffers were accompanying the caravan to report on conditions in San Juan Copala.
Also taking part in the caravan were Oaxaca residents active in the radical movement known as the People’s Assembly of Oaxaca, or APPO, that seized control of Oaxaca city for almost five months in 2006 to push for the ouster of Gov. Ulises Ruiz. More than a dozen people were killed in the conflict, including a freelance independent journalist from New York.
Among them was Daniel Arellano Chavez, 24, who is as an activist with Oaxacan Voices Constructing Autonomy and Liberty and the APPO. He said the caravan’s mission was both to act as observers and to show support for villagers seeking greater independence from the state and its ruling party.
Arellano, with his face marked by cuts from shattering glass in the ambush, said he found himself running for his life through the brush after gunmen cut off the road in front of and behind his vehicle.
Hiding from the militants, he clamped down on his fear before finding his way back to the road and home to Oaxaca.
“It was fear, but it was also anger and a feeling of impotence knowing they killed two of our companions,” he said.
Associated Press writers Ixtli Martinez in Oaxaca city, Martha Mendoza in Mexico City and Matti Huuhtanen in Helinski contributed to this report.
Published in The Messenger 4.30.10