January 3, 2000
Ecuador townspeople enter restricted volcano zone, confront military

                  QUITO, Ecuador (AP) -- Hundreds of evacuated residents, many armed
                  with rocks and clubs, confronted soldiers who blocked access to an
                  abandoned town being menaced by the Tungurahua volcano, the town's
                  mayor said Monday.

                  Two townspeople at the scene suffered cuts and bruises in isolated
                  clashes with soldiers, said Camilo Espinoza, the mayor of Banos.

                  The weekend confrontation came amid allegations that soldiers are looting
                  homes in Banos. In addition to the residents who confronted soldiers, nearly
                  2,000 more have slipped past military checkpoints to return to the town,
                  Espinoza said.

                  He said the residents "took back authority from the soldiers who should
                  have been protecting our (town)."

                  Banos, a tourist town of 17,000 people wedged into a narrow valley at the
                  foot of Tungurahua's lush green slopes, was evacuated in October after the
                  volcano awoke from a 79-year slumber. Another 8,000 people from nearby
                  villages and scattered hamlets also were ordered out of the area.

                  Authorities have maintained an alert, warning that within days or weeks the
                  16,553-foot Tungurahua could erupt as it has done at least a dozen times
                  since 1534.

                  Soldiers were brought in to protect the area, which lies about 75 miles
                  southeast of the capital, Quito. But a television news program broadcast
                  images Sunday night of three soldiers in the abandoned town climbing
                  through the window of a home and apparently looting possessions.

                  Espinoza said the alleged looting "has kindled even more resentment against
                  the military." Radio reports Monday said people were digging ditches in
                  roads around Banos to prevent military patrols from passing.

                  Officials say the volcano could remain active for months or years, keeping
                  people from returning to their homes. In November, hundreds of people
                  surged past a military checkpoint five miles from the volcano while trying to
                  return. Police used tear gas to force them back.

                  The situation has meant economic devastation for many evacuees. Hundreds
                  have defied orders to stay out of the restricted zone in recent months,
                  sneaking back to feed prized farm animals left behind and to plant small plots
                  of corn and potatoes.

                    Copyright 2000 The Associated Press.