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The BBC's Peter Greste
"The troop withdrawals are a start towards peace"
 real 56k

Saturday, 21 April, 2001, 01:54 GMT 02:54 UK
Mexican army leaves Chiapas
Zapatista Indian rebels in Chiapas
The rebellion for greater indigenous rights started in 1994
By Peter Greste in Mexico City

The Mexican army has withdrawn from its remaining bases in the southern state of Chiapas - one of the key conditions the Zapatista rebels had set for their return to peace talks, which were suspended five years ago.


Today the war stage ends and that of development of indigenous communities starts

President Vicente Fox
The last contingent of troops left the installation of Guadalupe Tepeyac, just outside the town La Realidad - the Zapatistas' headquarters since the start of their rebellion for greater indigenous rights in 1994.

Speaking at the Summit of the Americas in Quebec, Mexican President Vicente Fox said it was now time for face-to-face peace talks with the rebels.

But the withdrawal has raised fears of a security vaccuum.

The government plans to turn the bases into development centres for the local indigenous communities. But the departure does not guarantee that peace talks will start.

Peace talks

The rebels had issued two other conditions. They wanted all Zapatista prisoners released and a package of laws guaranteeing Indian rights written into the constitution.

President Vicente Fox
Vicente Fox has appealed for talks to begin
The prisoners are all free but legislation is still being hotly debated in congress.

Even so, Mr Fox has appealed for talks to begin.

But regardless of the Zapatistas' response, peace in Chiapas is still some way off.

The state is deeply troubled by land disputes, religious conflicts and traffickers in drugs and illegal migrants.

A day earlier eight Indians died in a shoot-out, and although officials say the incident was not related to the conflict with the rebels, they still cannot explain the incident.

The departure of troops has many people worried that Chiapas may be entering a new violent phase.

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See also:

20 Mar 01 | Americas
Zapatistas head back to jungle
16 Mar 01 | Americas
Marcos vows to fight on
15 Mar 01 | From Our Own Correspondent
In the footsteps of Zapata
02 Apr 01 | Media reports
Press says long road ahead for Zapatistas
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