Jews 'forced' to leave Guatemala village

The Lev Tahor are now hoping to find a place to live somewhere else in Guatemala

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Some 230 members of an Orthodox Jewish group have begun leaving a village in western Guatemala after a bitter row with the local indigenous community.

The Lev Tahor members were asked to leave San Juan La Laguna after meetings with elders of the Mayan community.

The elders accused the Jews of shunning the villagers and imposing their religion and customs.

The Lev Tahor had settled in the village six years ago as the group searched for religious freedom.

'Self-defence'

Over the last several days they were seen packing their belongings on lorries in preparations for the departure from the village, about 150km (90 miles) west of the capital Guatemala City.

"We are a people of peace and in order to avoid an incident we've already begun to leave," Lev Tahor member Misael Santos told the AFP news agency.

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

Lev Tahor members prepare to leave San Juan La Laguna on a bus The Lev Tahor are now hoping to find a place to live somewhere else in Guatemala
Members of San Juan La Laguna's indigenous community The indigenous community says its rights must be respected

Lev Tahor members, who practice an austere form of Judaism, also complained that they received threats that water and electricity would be cut if they stayed on.

Meanwhile, the village elders said the Jewish members "wanted to impose their religion" and were undermining the Catholic faith that was predominant in San Juan La Laguna.

"We act in self-defence and to respect our rights as indigenous people. The (Guatemalan) constitution protects us because we need to conserve and preserve our culture," Miguel Vasquez, a spokesman for the elders council, said.

The Lev Tahor said it hoped to settle elsewhere in Guatemala.

Many of the Jewish group members had been living in the village for six years but some had arrived earlier this year from Canada after a row with the authorities.

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