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Archive for Saturday, February 23, 2008

Standoff ends as mob frees 29 police

February 23, 2008

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— An angry mob took 29 policemen hostage in a Guatemalan town and held them for 32 hours before releasing the officers Friday in exchange for talks about legalizing their lands and dropping charges against a jailed farm leader, an official said.

The standoff began late Thursday when a crowd surrounded the police station in the Caribbean coastal town of Livingston, disarmed the agents and took them in boats to their remote village of Maya Creek.

The mob of hundreds threatened to kill the officers unless authorities agreed to release a jailed farm leader accused of leading land seizures.

Guatemalan officials and the Human Rights Prosecutor's office worked to negotiate an end to the 32-hour standoff.

"We spoke with our people in the town, and I can confirm that the 29 agents were released and are in perfect health," Rolando Yoc, the human rights office's chief advocate, told The Associated Press. Police officials had originally put the number of kidnapped officers at 30, but later said there were 29.

Farm leader Ramiro Choc, who was arrested Feb. 14 on charges of illegal land invasion, robbery and illegally holding people against their will, had urged his supporters to release the police officers in a telephone call from jail Thursday. Officials accuse Choc of inciting community residents to invade land and take over protected nature reserves.

Members of the mob told human rights prosecutors they had occupied the disputed land for more than a decade and that a powerful person had been trying to kick them out, Yoc said.

Following the release of the officers, the government promised to help Maya Creek residents legalize their land and to see if charges could be dropped against Choc, the human rights official said.

Five organizers from a local farmers union and community representatives will be transported by plane to the capital to negotiate with the government.

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