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The BBC's Peter Geste
"The peace process is giving these people some hope"
 real 56k

Sunday, 4 March, 2001, 00:03 GMT
Mexican Indians call for more rights
Comandante Abraham and Subcomandante Marcos attend the Nurio conference
Zapatista leaders salute the Mexican anthem
Mexico's Zapatista guerrillas and their supporters are attending a national congress of indigenous peoples aimed at boosting support for their demands for autonomy.

Several thousand Indians have gathered in the tiny village of Nurio for the three-day gathering which comes midway through the Zapatistas' grand tour of 12 Mexican states.


Now is the time for more words. Put away your machetes and start sharpening your words

Subcomandante Marcos
The meeting called for the passage of an Indian rights bill to give indigenous communities some autonomy, which President Vicente Fox has sent to the National Congress.

Addressing the conference, the Zapatista leader, Subcomandante Marcos, again criticised Mr Fox for not going far enough to address the rebels' demands for more Indian rights.

But he called for more debate, rather than fighting.

"Now is the time for words", he said. "Put away your machetes and start sharpening your words."

The BBC's Peter Greste in Mexico City says the problems facing the country's Indians are as diverse as the 62 languages they speak.

That, he says, goes some of the way towards explaining why they have never been able to find a common voice and why this congress is so important.

Goals

Purepecha Indians wave to Subcomandante Marcos
Thousands of Indians have gathered in Nurio
The Indians hope by joining forces they can push the government to recognise the rights of the nation's indigenous people in the country's constitution.

That is broadly in line with the goals of the Zapatista rebels who launched an uprising in 1994 to demand more autonomy for Mexico's Indians.

The guerrillas have been hugely successful at making the plight of the mainly Tzotzil Indians in the southern state of Chiapas a central issue both here in Mexico and around the world.

But the problems experienced in other indigenous communities across the country are much the same, and this congress is keen to add its collective voice to the Zapatistas.

'Zapatour'

The guerrillas are currently midway through a 12-state tour building support for their demands before they enter Mexico City in just over a week's time.

The procession, known as the "Zapatour", has been generating huge adoring crowds at almost every stop and it even has the explicit support of the government.

President Fox is providing security for the caravan.

One political commentator said there has never been a better opportunity for peace in Chiapas, and the indigenous congress knows that there is unlikely to be a better opportunity to press their claims as well.

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See also:

02 Mar 01 | Americas
Zapatistas enter 'hostile' territory
27 Feb 01 | Americas
Thousands greet Zapatista rebels
26 Feb 01 | Media reports
Press split on Zapatista march
25 Feb 01 | Americas
Zapatistas gamble on Mexico march
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 Feb 01 | Americas
Zapatista leader stars as comedian
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