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Land Disputes in Mexican State of Oaxaca Trigger Cycle  of Violence

In Mexico, authorities are trying to establish calm in a rural zone in the southern state of Oaxaca where 26 peasants were massacred last Friday. There is talk of revenge in the aggrieved community.

As the investigation goes forward to bring to justice those responsible for the massacre, there are fears that more violence could follow. In the village of Santiago Xochiltepec, 87 children were left fatherless in the killing last Friday. There are rumors that some men in the community of about 650 people are plotting revenge. State police and social services agencies are working to prevent more bloodshed.

The predominant theory to explain the massacre is a decades-old land dispute between Xochiltepec and the nearby village of Teojomulco. Oaxaca state officials suggest that permission for logging in the area given by the federal Environment Secretariat may have sparked the violence. But the environment secretary, Victor Lichtinger, denies such permits were issued.

He says logging permits were given to people in areas around the zone of conflict, but that no permits were given within the zone where the dispute over land remains active.

Documents published in the Mexican press seemed to contradict Mr. Lichtinger, but officials from his agency say the permits in question were canceled by a federal judge in December.

Logging of pine and other trees in the area can be lucrative for the mostly indigenous residents. It is estimated that in one week a group of men could extract lumber valued at several hundred thousand dollars. The dispute over land and logging rights between Xochiltepec and Teojomulco dates back to 1935 when ten people died in a clash. The last violent encounter, prior to last Friday's massacre, was in 1998.