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BBC Central America correspondent Peter Greste
"It was by all accounts a tragedy born of misunderstandings"
 real 28k

Monday, 1 May, 2000, 05:29 GMT 06:29 UK
Two stoned to death in Guatemala
Coffin
The excursion left two people dead
A Japanese tourist and a Guatemalan bus driver have been beaten to death after villagers suspected a tour group of trying to kidnap children.

The attack happened on Saturday in the town of Todos Santos Cuchumatan, 140km (90 miles) west of Guatemala City, after a group of 22 tourists, mostly Japanese, started taking photographs of children in the town's marketplace.

Tesuo Yamahiro, 40, and bus driver Edgar Castellanos, 39, were stoned to death by the mob.

Castellanos' body was then doused in petrol and set alight in front of the horrified Japanese tour party.

Four other tourists were injured.

Todos Santos Cuchumatan market
Tourists at the colourful local market

"The tourists were taking pictures of women and children in the market when someone started to scream that they were stealing children and a crowd of 500 villagers quickly closed in around them," said police spokesman Faustino Sanchez said.

Local police rushed to the market and began to fire tear gas to disperse the crowd. Two police officers were injured.

A Japanese embassy official called the attack "lamentable" and urged the Guatemalan authorities to investigate.

Rumours

There are persistent rumours in some Mayan communities that foreigners to steal children to sell them or their body parts abroad, although no cases have been documented.

In 1994, US journalist June Weinstock was attacked and beaten almost to death by hundreds of angry peasants in the remote village of San Cristobal Verapaz who thought she was trying to steal a baby.

Thousands of foreign tourists visit the market at Todos Santos Cuchumatan every year, and it is not clear why villagers reacted so strongly in this case.

The town is listed in international tourist guides.

War legacy

Tourism brought in $394m in 1998, making it the second source of hard currency after coffee.

About 4,000 to 5,000 Japanese businessmen and tourists visit Guatemala every year.

Mob lynching is not uncommon in impoverished and crime-ridden Guatemala.

Experts say a legacy of violence remains in the country, which in 1996 emerged from a 36-year civil war that killed 200,000 people, mostly Mayan peasants.

At least 71 people, mostly suspected criminals, were killed by mobs in peasant villages in 1999.

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