San Cristobal de las Casas – The indigenous organization targeted in a 1997 massacre in southern Mexico criticized the filing of a lawsuit against former Mexican President Ernesto Zedillo for alleged complicity with the killings.
The suit was filed last week in U.S. District Court in Connecticut, where Zedillo, a Yale University faculty member, now lives.
The legal action was brought by a Miami law firm on behalf of 10 plaintiffs who asked to remain anonymous.
In a statement criticizing the U.S. lawsuit, Las Abejas, a grassroots Roman Catholic group whose membership is mainly Tzotzil Indians, said that it is the "only organization which represents survivors of the Acteal massacre."
On Dec. 22, 1997, a contingent of men toting assault rifles killed 45 unarmed members of Las Abejas, including 15 children, as they were praying inside a church in Acteal, Chiapas state.
"Unlike the lawsuit presented by some unknown person in the United States, our demand does not center on obtaining money, but on the demand for justice and for an end to impunity," Las Abejas said Thursday.
The group called it "ridiculous and suspicious" that the lawyers behind the U.S. suit refuse to disclose the names of clients.
The filing of the lawsuit, which accuses the former Mexican head of state of complicity with the slaughter and an ensuing cover-up, was reported Monday by a Connecticut newspaper, The Hartford Courant.
Zedillo, who governed Mexico from 1994-2000, said Tuesday in an e-mail to CNN that the allegations in the suit were "not only false but also calumnious."
Las Abejas said that while it does not agree with the suit, it welcomes the prospect of seeing Zedillo having to answer in court "for the crimes against humanity committed in Acteal."
The organization also pointed out that the Inter-American Human Rights Commission agreed last November to consider the complaint Las Abejas submitted against the Mexican state in connection with what activists contend is continuing repression in Chiapas.
Though pacifist in outlook, Las Abejas supported the leftist, Indian-rights agenda of the Zapatista National Liberation Army, whose January 1994 uprising brought national and international attention to the impoverished state bordering Guatemala.
The Acteal massacre forced the resignation of Chiapas' then-governor, Julio Cesar Ruiz Ferro, and the ouster of Mexico's interior minister, Emilio Chuayfett.
Human rights organizations said the killings resulted from acts of both commission and omission by allies of Ruiz.
Some groups went even further, calling the slaughter a "state crime" and attributing the ultimate responsibility to then-President Zedillo.
The lawsuit filed in Connecticut maintains that Zedillo's government abandoned talks with the Zapatistas - whose armed uprising lasted only about a week - in favor of a violent crackdown after a report from a U.S. bank cited instability in Chiapas as a negative factor for the Mexican economy.
Zedillo, according to the suit, conspired with former Attorney General Jorge Madrazo Cuellar to hide the president's connection with a covert operation involving the use of police, soldiers and civilian paramilitaries to crush the Zapatistas.
"Compelling evidence shows that the authorities facilitated the arming of paramilitaries who carried out the killings and failed to intervene as the savage attack continued for hours," Amnesty International said in a 1998 statement on Acteal.