Guatemalan authorities detain 8 for alleged involvement in mob’s seizure of army outpost

GUATEMALA CITY — Authorities detained eight people Wednesday for allegedly participating in a mob’s seizure of an army outpost in northern Guatemala that led officials to declare a state of siege.

Defense Ministry spokesman Rony Urizar said 100 soldiers and 160 police officers were sent to Huehuetenango province on the border with Mexico after 200 people armed with machetes and guns briefly took over the outpost and beat up several soldiers Tuesday. They then left and set some buildings ablaze in the town of Barillas.

A resident of Barillas had been killed hours earlier and the group was demanding justice and a stop to what they say are attempts to intimidate them because of their opposition to the construction of a hydroelectric plant in their town.

Residents believe the man was killed in retaliation for opposing the project, Urizar said.

On Wednesday, President Otto Molina, a retired army general, defended his decision to declare a state of siege and said those who participated in the riot are accomplices of drug traffickers based on the loosely guarded border with Mexico.

Alberto Brunori, the representative of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Right in Guatemala, said community leaders in Barillas had reported acts of intimidation involving the hydroelectric project.

“We received several reports of harassment in Huehuetenango allegedly connected to the hydroelectric plant, but those are reports that have to be investigated,” Brunori said.

For years, farmers and human rights activists in Guatemala have filed complaints against companies trying to take their land, often with the consent of the government, to expand agro-industrial or hydroelectric projects.

The U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights said in March that Guatemala’s judiciary had issued at least 44 land eviction orders in 2011 throughout the country.

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