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Mexico must protect residents of disputed land

The Mexican authorities must protect residents of disputed land who have been intimidated and attacked by the security guards of local landowners who are contesting the ownership of the land, said Amnesty International. The call comes after a woman living in the Lomas del Poleo area of Chihuahua State, northern Mexico was shot and injured at her home by two men in balaclavas on 4 December. Lomas del Poleo residents have been harassed and attacked since 2003. According to local inhabitants, 40 homes were set on fire that year and a resident was beaten to death by security guards. The land of Lomas del Poleo has become valuable in recent years as it stands between the city of Ciudad Juárez and an area destined for urban and industrial development by a group of local businessmen. The area is surrounded by a barbed wire fence and the entrance is patrolled by security guards. An agrarian tribunal has held a number of hearings between the residents of Lomas del Poleo and a local landowning family, but the case has been progressing very slowly. Adelaida Plasencia Sierra, who was shot on 4 December, had given evidence at the agrarian tribunal. The attack is thought to be part of an attempt to intimidate those taking part in the tribunal. Every day for two weeks before her attack Adelaida Plasencia Sierra had noticed that a white car without number plates was parked outside her house. The two armed men who came to her door said they were selling a mobile phone. When Adelaida Plasencia refused to buy the phone, they asked to talk to her husband, Vicente. Adelaida Plasencia did not recognize the men and was surprised that they knew her husband's name. The men grabbed her and tried to force her into a car. She escaped and ran towards her house, but the men shot her. One bullet fractured three of her ribs. The men then shot a further nine bullets into the air and drove off. Adelaida Plasencia is recovering in hospital. Amnesty International has urged the Mexican authorities to order independent and impartial investigations into the attacks committed against residents, and to bring those responsible to justice. The organization also said that the authorities should prevent any illegal attempt to drive residents of Lomas de Poleo off their land and to expedite efforts to ensure the dispute is resolved fairly and satisfactorily in the appropriate agrarian tribunal.