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Monday, 15 July, 2002, 16:37 GMT 17:37 UK
Mexico airport stand-off ends
Protesters in San Salvador Atenco
Protesters say the land is not for sale
Mexican farmers have released the last of 19 hostages taken last week during protests against the construction of a new airport on their land near the capital, Mexico City.


Even if they gave us all the gold in the world, we wouldn't leave our land because that is all we have

Woman protester
It followed the release of 12 farmers, who had been arrested after violent clashes with police.

At one point, the farmers threatened to kill the hostages, who were mostly local officials or federal police officers.

Despite the releases on both sides, reports say the barricades in San Salvador Atenco are still in place and no formal talks have been held to solve the airport dispute.

Villagers' demands

During a late-night news conference, Interior Secretary Santiago Creel called for negotiations.

He said 10 other communities affected by the airport plans had been in talks with the government for six months.

Hostages on display for the press
The hostages included police officers

But as the hostages were being released, farmers' leader David Pajero complained that the authorities had not met their conditions.

These terms included a meeting with President Vicente Fox, more farm aid and the withdrawal of police and troops surrounding the town.

The protesters want the government to scrap a decree issued in October to expropriate more than 10,000 acres (4,000 hectares) of land to build the new six-runway airport.

The regional governor in Mexico State, Arturo Montiel, has urged the protesters to "begin a constructive dialogue within the framework of the law".

He also warned that the protesters released so far could still face criminal charges, including that of wounding a police officer with a machete.

'Not for sale'

Months of protests erupted into street battles on Thursday in San Salvador Atenco.

The security forces have pulled back from the town centre, where several hundred protesters are believed to be camped out in front of the town hall.

Woman sleeping next to her machete
The protesters say they will continue their struggle

Officials say that the existing Mexico City airport, which has two runways, cannot be extended as it is surrounded by residential areas.

If the proposal goes ahead, a government order will entitle them to as little as 70 cents per square metre of land, a price they say is ridiculously low.

The protesters say they will not agree to the sale of the land at any price.

A weekend rally in the town heard the chant of "Fox you have to understand; the land can't be sold".

One woman waving a machete said: "Even if they gave us all the gold in the world, we wouldn't leave our land because that is all we have."

See also:

13 Jul 02 | Americas
15 Jun 02 | Americas
07 Mar 02 | Country profiles
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