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Thousands forced to flee from gang violence in southern Mexico

THOUSANDS of residents displaced by violence that intensified this week in the southern Mexican state of Chiapas remained fearful on Tuesday of returning to their homes.

Authorities have had to set up camps for more than 4,000 displaced people who fled the town of Tila over the weekend and are working to bring them home, but the displaced are wary.

One of them, Julio Cesar Gomez, fled after armed gangs shot up the town and burned several of his relatives’ homes.

Speaking from a sports court turned camp for the displaced in Yajalon, he said: “They tell us to return but who can guarantee that we will be safe, that there won’t be problems?”

Criminal gangs burned his father-in-law’s, brother’s and brother-in-law’s homes, so he fears that if he goes back the gangs will still be there.

Mr Gomez, one of the few who dared give his name, said: “I think I’m going to relocate to a new state, find work in carpentry, painting.”

The Digna Ochoa Human Rights Centre said that a group calling itself the Autonomous Ones, was behind the violence, and said it was linked to drug trafficking.

Battles between rival drug cartels have hit several townships in Chiapas near the Guatemala border, because the area is a main route for smuggling drugs and migrants. 

In 1994, rebels of the Zapatista Indigenous rights movement staged a brief armed uprising in Chiapas and thousands of people were displaced as a result of the fighting between the rebels and the army.

In 1997, the massacre of 45 indigenous villagers in Acteal, sparked by land and political conflicts, also sent thousands of people fleeing.

Tackling gang violence will be at the top of the agenda for the country’s new president, Claudia Sheinbaum, when she takes over from Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador in October.

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