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Rape Case Reopened Against Seven Priests

Authorities in a troubled southern state have reopened a case accusing seven Catholic priests of rebellion, kidnapping and rape, the newspaper Expreso reported Sunday.

Church leaders and the Chiapas government have had an uneasy relationship since the Zapatista rebels took up arms in 1994 to demand increased rights for Mexico’s Indians.

Reopening the case indicates a hardening of the government’s position just as peace talks with rebels are expected to resume.

The charges were made in June 1995. Two women alleged that a group of 30 armed attackers, including the priests, burst into their village and raped them and beat several villagers.

The Fray Bartolome de las Casas Human Rights Center accused the government of fabricating the charges to harass the local Roman Catholic diocese, headed by Bishop Samuel Ruiz.

Ruiz leads a mediation commission working on sputtering peace talks and some critics accuse him of inciting the rebellion.

Four of the priests are foreigners, including two Americans, and they were expelled after the charges were leveled in 1995.

The following fields overflowed: DATELINE = SAN CRISTOBAL DE LAS CASAS, MEXICO

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