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The BBC's Nick Blakemore
President Fox has described the initiative as 'a bridge to peace'
 real 56k

March supporter, Elena Moreno
"There's a real chess game going on between Marcos and resident Fox
 real 28k

Sunday, 25 February, 2001, 18:03 GMT
Zapatistas gamble on Mexico march
Subcomandante Marcos
Marcos (right) wants to gauge public support
A delegation of 24 rebel Zapatista commanders has begun a two-week tour of Mexico from their jungle stronghold in the southern state of Chiapas.

This has been dubbed the "Zapatour" - a grand parade of guerrilla leaders, complete with trademark black ski masks, through some of Mexico's poorest states.

Their aim - to drum up public support for their demands for greater rights for the nation's 10 million Indians.
President Fox
President Fox: Resolving the conflict is a priority

They will be holding rallies and meetings along the way, and the organisers say the resulting caravan could include several thousand supporters.

They are due to arrive in Mexico City by mid-March, when they will try to present their case to the Mexican Congress.

They are demanding

  • fresh legislation on indigenous rights
  • the release of all Zapatista sympathisers
  • the closure of army bases in Chiapas

The Fox administration, which defeated the long-ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) last year, has gone some way towards meeting these demands, but not enough to lure the rebels back to peace talks.

A gamble?

In a ceremony to mark the beginning of the march, leader Subcomandante Marcos handed his gun to another rebel commander of the Zapatista National Liberation Army in front of hundreds of supporters.

Zapatista women
Several thousand supporters could join the march
The Zapatistas have been fighting an armed rebellion since their uprising in the state of Chiapas on New Year's Day in 1994.

There have been few open battles since then, but the simmering conflict has cost dozens of lives and inflamed passions across Mexico.

This will be the first time the rebels have publicly ventured out of their stronghold and they have pledged to travel unarmed.

Even so, there is still serious potential for trouble.

Some state governors have promised to block the group and there are real fears that opponents could try to disrupt the march.

In launching this tour, BBC Mexico correspondent Peter Greste says the Zapatistas have gambled their entire cause.

If they get the public backing they are predicting, the government will find them hard to dismiss.

But if the followers are few, the gambit will have backfired.

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See also:

23 Dec 00 | Americas
Mexico shuts Chiapas army base
03 Dec 00 | Americas
Mexico rebels to talk peace
03 Dec 00 | Americas
Mexico's peasant revolt
01 Dec 00 | Americas
Vicente Fox: The road ahead
21 Aug 00 | Americas
Opposition claims victory in Chiapas
14 Feb 00 | Americas
Mexico urged to stop Chiapas patrols
01 Feb 01 | Americas
Zapatista leader stars as comedian
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