Guatemala police 'held hostage'

Villagers say they will release captives in exchange for talks on land issues.

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

    Leader's release urged
     
    The group had earlier demanded the release of Ramiro Choc, a local Mayan farmer leader, 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.
     
    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.
     
    Almost half of Guatemala's population are indigenous, many landless peasants who often invade land for subsistence farming.

    Land disputes were one of the catalysts for the country's brutal civil war between from 1960 to 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.
     
    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.
     
    It is also one of the most violent, with about 6,000 people being murdered in the country every year.

    SOURCE: Agencies


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