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Latino Daily News

Saturday April 21, 2012

Mexican Indians Free 14 Police and 2 Government Officials Held Hostages

Mexican Indians Free 14 Police and 2 Government Officials Held Hostages

Photo: Mexican Police Held Hostage

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Fourteen police and two government officials taken prisoner by a group of Indians in the western Mexican state of Michoacan were released on Friday as talks resumed between authorities and indigenous leaders.

The cops and state officials were seized early Thursday while investigating the deaths of eight people in armed clashes in Cheran, a rebel municipality in Michoacan.

The freed captives are in good health and have already been reunited with their families, a state government source told Efe.

Along with the hostages, the Indians handed over three police patrol cars and 32 guns.

The Cheran High Council met privately Friday with Michoacan Gov. Fausto Vallejo to press demands for an end to the illegal cutting of pine and oak trees, which the Indians say has claimed more than 30,000 hectares (75,000 acres) of forests in recent years.

Cheran, home to some 4,500 Indians, is 123 kilometers (76 miles) from Morelia, the capital of Michoacan.

The community is in the heart of the Meseta Purepecha, where Indians announced last year that they would no longer recognize the federal, state and municipal governments because officials could not protect their forests from illegal loggers backed by organized crime.

The violence that brought the state police and officials to the area began Wednesday morning, when loggers armed with assault rifles opened fire at Purepechas on patrol to prevent illegal cutting of pine and oak trees.

Two of the Indians were killed and several others wounded by the loggers from El Cerecito, a town near Cheran.

Another group of Indians subsequently headed into the forest and engaged the illegal loggers in a shootout, killing six of them, including two who were found by police inside a burnt-out SUV.

Investigators were not able to enter the area until they received permission from Indian leaders in Cheran, which has been barricaded for the past year to protect residents from the groups behind the logging, state police said.

The Purepechas boycotted the Nov. 13 gubernatorial, municipal and legislative ballot in Michoacan and plan to ban voting in Cheran in the July 1 general elections, when Mexicans go to the polls to select President Felipe Calderon’s successor and more than 2,000 other elected officials.