Guatemala police hostages 'freed'

Villagers free 29 policemen after officials agree to talks on legalising their land.

    Guatemala is one of the poorest and most violent
    countries in central America [EPA] 

    Almost half of Guatemala's population are indigenous, many landless peasants who often invade land for farming.
     
    Land negotiations
     
    Members of the group told Yoc that they had occupied the disputed land for more than a decade and that a powerful person had been trying to kick them out, he told AP.

    Yoc also said that the government may drop charges filed against a jailed indigenous Maya farm leader, Ramiro Choc, who was arrested last week on charges of illegal land invasion, robbery and holding people against their will.
     
    Authorities say Choc leads land seizures in the region and has encouraged locals to take over protected nature reserves.
     
    However the villagers had earlier called for his release.
     
    Choc had urged the villagers to release the officers in a telephone call from prison, Ricardo Gatica, a spokesman for the interior ministry, told AP.
     
    Five members of a local farmers union and community representatives
    will also be flown to Guatemala City, the capital, to negotiate with the government over the land.
     
    Crime and poverty

    Land disputes were one of the catalysts for the country's brutal civil war between 1960 and 1996 which left around 250,000 people dead or missing.
     
    In January Guatemala's new president, Alvaro Colom, took office with a pledge to reduce crime and violence. However, crime continues to be at high levels with about 6,000 people being murdered in the country every year.
     
    Guatemala is one of the poorest central American nations, with half of its 13 million people living on less than $1 a day, and discrimination against the ethnic Mayan majority remaining high.

    SOURCE: Agencies


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