November 29, 2000

Mob sets five people on fire in central Guatemala

                  GUATEMALA CITY (AP) -- An angry mob burned to death five men accused of
                  killing a local man in the mountains of central Guatemala Tuesday, bringing to 28
                  the number of people killed in vigilante violence here so far this year.

                  Hundreds of villagers in the hamlet of Las Conchas cornered the five people,
                  doused them in gasoline and lit each one on fire while they begged for their lives,
                  said Vincent Piola, a spokesman for the United Nations Mission to Guatemala.

                  The mob believed the men were involved in the fatal shooting of a local man
                  during a botched robbery attempt Tuesday afternoon in the village, about 145
                  miles (230 kilometers) northeast of Guatemala City.

                  At least two of the mob's victims were carrying weapons at the time they were
                  captured, said an official at the Coban state police office.

                  "It appears that these men were responsible for the first killing," said the official,
                  who said he was not authorized to have his name published.

                  According to the United Nations Mission to Guatemala, 45 acts of mob violence
                  have now claimed 28 Guatemalan victims this year. Some 22 of those deaths
                  have come since the end of June.

                  "There's no explaining the sudden rise we have seen in these types of lynchings,"
                  said Piola, whose organization released a bulletin condemning mob violence
                  earlier this month. "This is deplorable for the United Nations and for all of the
                  citizens of Guatemala."

                  Tuesday's mob attack came mere hours after Guatemala's Tourism Ministry
                  staged a news conference to announce that it was launching an aggressive
                  campaign condemning vigilante violence "in all its terrible forms."

                  The ministry plans to air anti-violence radio announcements in Spanish and seven
                  Mayan languages, and show videos at schools in rural, largely Indian areas were
                  mob killings are most common, said Mariano Beltranena, the director of the
                  Tourism Institute of Guatemala.

                  The attack was the second-largest Guatemalan mob killing in recent memory.
                  The largest was July 8 when a group of 200 Indian peasants from the isolated
                  hamlet of Xalvaquiej blocked off a one-lane bridge and waited all day before
                  pulling eight men out of two approaching pickup trucks and burning them alive.

                  Local authorities joined investigators in Guatemala City in insisting that the eight
                  victims of that attack, who ran a local trucking company, had no criminal
                  record. The mob, however, claimed the group had tried to kidnap a local girl the
                  morning of the attack and also was behind the 1999 abduction and rape of
                  another local girl.

                  Piola said Tuesday's attack was probably yet another case where rural villagers
                  frustrated with Guatemala's slow-moving justice system saw no choice but to
                  take matters into their own hands.

                  "The mob came looking to solve problems with violence," said Piola, whose
                  group monitors the implementation of the 1996 peace accords which ended a
                  36-year civil war between leftist, mostly Indian guerrillas and the government.

                  Since the end of the brutal civil war in which 200,000 Guatemalans were killed,
                  deadly vigilante violence has become common in Guatemala. In 1999 mass
                  killings claimed 48 victims here, while 52 Guatemalans were killed in mob
                  attacks in 1998.

                  Copyright 2000 The Associated Press.