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Mexican Rebel Group Renews Attacks; 9 Dead

May 29, 1997|MARY BETH SHERIDAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

MEXICO CITY — After months of lying low, Mexico's newest rebel group has reappeared in a series of clashes with the army in recent days that has killed nine people and raised fears of renewed violence.

Officials said Wednesday that about 25 gunmen had attacked soldiers searching for drugs a day earlier near Atoyac de Alvarez, about 40 miles northwest of Acapulco.

One soldier was killed, an army bulletin said. When soldiers later tried to remove his body, they were reportedly ambushed again. Two soldiers and two gunmen died in the second firefight, officials said.

While the army did not identify the assailants, local officials said they appeared to be members of the left-wing Popular Revolutionary Army, known by its Spanish acronym, EPR.

The mysterious Marxist group first appeared last June in Guerrero state. At least 30 people died in rebel attacks in the following months.

"The EPR is the only armed group that exists around here," said a local police officer, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Tuesday's attack came three days after another clash that left at least two EPR guerrillas and two soldiers dead near Chilapa, also in Guerrero state.

The fighting marked the first known EPR violence since January, when the guerrillas announced that they would switch from a military to a propaganda campaign.

In the past few months, they have been spotted handing out leaflets on roads in poor areas and visiting villages seeking support.

Recently, however, the guerrillas warned that they could resume fighting in response to an intense army campaign aimed at them and their sympathizers.

"For several days we have been telling the public about the possibility of clashes between our forces and the army because clearly there is growing militarization, and our units have been subject to harassment," the EPR said in a communique released this week.

The latest clashes have raised fears of further bloodshed in the run-up to key nationwide elections in July.

The elections are expected to be the most competitive and fair in Mexico in seven decades. For the first time, the ruling party could lose control of the lower house of Congress.

Condemning the rebel attacks, Guerrero state Gov. Angel Aguirre said in a radio interview Tuesday that they "are oriented toward . . . creating a tense atmosphere before the elections on July 6."

The EPR is not believed to be linked to the Zapatista rebels who waged a brief war in 1994 in the southern state of Chiapas.

Helena Sundman of The Times' Mexico City Bureau contributed to this report.

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