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Journalists threatened, press vehicle stolen by armed drug-traffickers in Zacapa

(CERIGUA/IFEX) - On 25 March 2008, a group of journalists travelling to the capital city by bus from the town of Rio Hondo, in the eastern department of Zacapa, was held at gunpoint and threatened by two men affiliated with Mexican and Guatemalan drug cartels. Four other armed men robbed "Siglo XXI" newspaper journalists of their work vehicle.

"El Periódico" newspaper reported that, when the journalists' bus was stopped by armed men, the journalists fled to the roadsides and remained in hiding there until they felt it was safe to re-emerge. They then continued on their way, came upon a farming vehicle riddled with bullet-holes and met up with the two other journalists whose vehicle had been stolen.

The incidents took place as drug-traffickers were fleeing from the site of an armed confrontation between competing cartels. The conflict resulted in 11 deaths, including that of Juan Josè Leòn, alias "Juancho", reportedly the leader of the Golfo/Sayaxchè, Zacapa-Izabal-Petén cartel. Six of those involved were later apprehended.

CERIGUA's Journalists' Observatory study on the topic of "parallel powers" (entitled "Poderes Paralelos al Asecho"), has expressed the organisation's concern regarding the significant presence of drug traffickers in Guatemala. Guatemala is a geopolitically important location for drug shipping and related activities.

The presence of drug-traffickers, with the violence they bring, places journalists in danger and increases the risks of reporting - and even of travelling to certain regions of the country to collect information. The phenomenon thus represents a serious threat to free expression and to the public's right to information.

CERIGUA expresses its concern for the safety of the journalists working in the regions affected.

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