Saturday, 15 March 2008

More trouble on the Rio?

This is a worrying new development here on the Rio. Just in time for the height of the tourist season too...

GUATEMALA CITY (Reuters) - Two Belgian couples on holiday in Guatemala were taken hostage on Friday, along with two Guatemalan guides, by a group of farmers angry over the arrest of a local Mayan leader, the Belgium consulate said.

Hundreds of farmers stopped and surrounded a small motor boat as it took the tourists up the remote, emerald-green Rio Dulce river near the Caribbean coast. They later told a radio station the tourists were safe but would be held until authorities released the indigenous leader, who was arrested last month for invading land.

"The boat was taken around midday but we have not been able to confirm the identity of the Belgians," said Liana Santa Cruz, an employee at Belgium's small consulate office in Guatemala City. She said the Guatemalan navy was sending a ship up the river to look for the hostages.

The captors had taken the boat further upriver to hide it from police, one of the captured tourist guides told Guatemalan radio by cell phone.

"We don't know where we are but we've been moving about in the boat for several hours," guide Mauricio Dubon said.

"We haven't been physically hurt, but we haven't eaten since 10 o'clock (in the morning) and they are moving the boat to different canals off the Rio Dulce."

One of the Belgian tourists told the radio in French that the group was unharmed.

The same group of Mayan farmers held 29 policemen hostage for more than 24 hours in February demanding the release of Ramiro Choc, a community leader whose supporters say he is fighting for land rights.

Close to half of Guatemala's population are indigenous peasants, many of them landless, who often invade land for subsistence farming.

"The tourists are fine, but we are not going to let them go until the government releases Ramiro Choc," Juan Tuyun, the group's leader told the local radio.

And this report from The International Herald Tribune;

Farmers fighting for the release of their imprisoned leader took four Belgians, their Guatemalan guide and a boat operator hostage Friday, Guatemala's national tourist agency said.

The Belgians — two women and two men — were taken captive in Rio Dulce, a tourist area about 155 miles northeast of Guatemala City, said Jose Roberto Goubaud, spokesman for the tourism institute.

Goubaud said he did not have any additional information except that "police have specific instructions to not do anything to put the tourists in danger."

Cristian Zost, director of tour operator Guayacan Tours, said he had spoken with the kidnapped guide by cell phone several times before losing contact at about 11 a.m.

"We know they are fine, have eaten and haven't been harmed," Zost said.

The news from the Rio is somewhat confused so we will wait and see what happens next...

No comments: