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Jewish community 'forced out' of Guatemalan village

GUATEMALA CITY--A community of 230 Orthodox Jews from several countries Thursday began leaving the Guatemalan Indian village where they have lived for six years after claims and counterclaims of discrimination and threats.

Their exit from San Juan La Laguna, on the banks of Lake Atitlan and 200 kilometers (125 miles) from the capital Guatemala City, follows a meeting Wednesday in which Jewish and indigenous representatives failed to reach an agreement.

“We are a people of peace and in order to avoid an incident we've already begun to leave the village,” Misael Santos, a representative from the Jewish community, told AFP.

They had received threats, Santos said.

“We have a right to be there, but they threatened us with lynching if we don't leave the village,” he added.

Most members of the small Jewish community are from the United States, Israel, Britain and Russia, and around 40 are Guatemalan. Approximately half are children.

Since October, the local indigenous population has accused the Orthodox Jews of discriminating against them and of violating Mayan customs.

The Council of Indigenous Elders said the Jewish community “wanted to impose their religion” and was undermining the Catholic faith that is predominant in the village.

“We act in self-defense and to respect our rights as indigenous people. The (Guatemalan) constitution protects us because we need to conserve and preserve our culture,” council spokesman Miguel Vasquez told AFP.

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Pedro Vasquez, leader of San Juan La Laguna community, speaks during a meeting with members of the Orthodox Jewish community at the headquarters of the Human Rights Office in Guatemala City on Wednesday, Aug. 27.

(AFP)

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