A group of 230 Jews, reportedly from the cult group Lev Tahor, have started leaving the Guatemalan Indian village where at least some of them have lived for six years amid claims that they were threatened.
Reports about the expulsion of Jews from San Juan La Laguna, located on the banks of Lake Atitlan 125 miles from the capital Guatemala City, first surfaced in May.
However, George Tannenbaum, President of the Guatemala Jewish Community, claimed in early June that the group under discussion and particularly its leader Misael Santos were members of the Lev Tahor cult, which has reportedly engaged in shocking physical and sexual abuse. Members of the group have tried fleeing Canada to Guatemala over legal proceedings.
In the latest turn of events, members of the Jewish group and indigenous representatives held a meeting on Wednesday, but 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 told AFP, claiming "we have a right to be there, but they threatened us with lynching if we don't leave the village."
AFP reports that 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 Jewish group of violating Mayan customs.
The Council of Indigenous Elders said the Jewish group "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.