Gunmen ambush caravan of rights observers, leftists in southern Mexico, killing Finn, Mexican

OAXACA, Mexico (AP) — An attack by masked gunmen on a convoy of about 40 Mexican and European human rights activists and journalists has left two dead and at least four people missing in a remote area of this southern Mexican state.

Targets of the assault included members of a radical movement that seized control of the capital of Oaxaca state for five months in 2006, and there were fears a long-standing conflict between the group and the state government could be reignited.

The dead included a Finnish human rights activist, and a Belgian is one of two activists missing, along with two journalists from the Mexican magazine Contralinea. The Mexican victim was identified as activist Beatriz Carino Trujillo.

At least one Italian activist also participated in the caravan, which was traveling to the remote Triqui Indian mountain town of San Juan Copala to support the town's fight for more autonomy from the state government.

Police on Thursday scoured the mountains above the capital, Oaxaca city, for the attackers while survivors recounted their ordeal at a news conference.

"They started to spray us with bullets," said activist Gabriela Jimenez Ramirez, who was traveling inside a sport utility vehicle with a dozen people, including the two who were killed.

"Trying to back up, they blew out the tires of the vehicle. We threw ourselves on the floor. The vehicle was shaking because there were bursts of gunfire."

State police said it took them a full day to recover the bodies after traveling over remote and rough roads and amid reports that gunmen surrounded the city.

Photos from the scene show a bullet-ridden SUV on a dirt road, and the body of Jyri Jaakkola, 33, of Finland, who appeared to have been shot in the head.

Jaakkola was a member of a small, Finnish civil rights group Uusi Tuuli (New Wind), based in the southwestern city of Turku. Jaakkola, who traveled to Mexico about two months ago on his own initiative, financed the trip mainly with his savings and planned to stay a year advocating for human rights, Uusi Tuuli spokesman Jani Nevala said.

"We shall continue this work even more vigorously than before," Nevala told The Associated Press in Finland. "We are trying to help the indigenous people of Mexico, where during the past few years human rights have been trodden upon."

The Foreign Ministry in Helsinki withheld comment on the attack pending a report from the Finnish Embassy in Mexico.

The bodies of Jaakkola and Carino Trujillo were transported to a nearby city for autopsies.

The missing Contralinea staff, reporter Erika Ramirez and photographer David Cilia, were accompanying the caravan to report on conditions in San Juan Copala.

"We are really very distressed as we wait for more information," said magazine spokeswoman Nancy Flores.

Also taking part in the caravan were representatives of the radical movement known as the People's Assembly of Oaxaca, or APPO, which seized control of Oaxaca city for almost five months in 2006 to push for the ouster of Gov. Ulises Ruiz. More than a dozen people were killed in the conflict, including a freelance independent journalist from New York.

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Associated Press Writers Ixtli Martinez in Oaxaca city, Martha Mendoza in Mexico City, and Matti Huuhtanen in Helinski contributed to this report.