Monday, January 26, 2009

Two CONAP Guards Kidnapped

Yesterday, after a gun battle, security forces liberated two CONAP guards in the Petén. The incident took place in Laguna del Tigre National Park. Two of the perpetrators were killed and 46 more arrested.

CONAP is a government agency responsible for guarding Guatemala's natural resources, particularly tropical hardwoods. Guatemala's tropical hardwood forests are under constant attack from poachers who harvest the wood illegally and transport it out of the country, usually through Mexico. Northern Guatemala's long border with Mexico is mostly wilderness and difficult to guard. the poachers operate in large organized groups and are heavily armed. CONAP is responsible for protecting these resources and checking that shipments of wood leaving the Peten are legally harvested.

Rolando Gonzalez Garcia, 56, and Anibal Adrian Magallón Kilcán, 42, employees of CONAP forcibly taken from the checkpoint at Guayacán last Thursday. "
I was talking with my companion when a hundred men entered the camp. We were captured and taken to San Andres Santa Amelia. I thought we were going to kill us," said Magallón after being released. CONAP said that it's a heavily armed group, well organized, with new vehicles and firearms. The kidnappers demanded that they be given land in the park, property titles, and included in the strategic plans of the forest reservation.

Rudel Alvarez, governor of the Petén, said that after the guards were taken, six hours passed with no dialogue with the kidnappers. The poachers shot into the air while the security forces carried out raids on nearby communities. The Staff Attorney of Human Rights came to ask them to release the hostages, but the kidnappers refused.

After several unsuccessful attempts at negotiation, the special forces of the National Civil Police (PNC) and soldiers carried out a rescue operation. Residents of the village of El Naranjo, La Libertad, saw 500 policemen and 200 soldiers go to Santa Amelia, about 220 kilometers from Flores.

Security forces conducted several raids to locate the hostages. The official report from the PNC says that the kidnapped guards were located at the farm Rosita-Rio Escondido. The report shows that the police killed an unidentified man who shot at the police with a shotgun. The report also states that no military or police were serioualy injured but local farmers say that 10 police and three soldiers were injured and taken by helicopter to a hospital.

Police reported that 46 people were arrested including several women and firearms were seized.

President Alvaro Colom announced that an airplane and a helicopter of the Guatemalan Air Force were attacked last Sunday with a rifle. "That's why he had to intervene to achieve the rescue of the two members of CONAP," he said. He added that the government has a plan for capturing the rest of the perpetrators.

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