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,
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
16,553-foot Tungurahua could erupt as it has done at least a dozen times
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.