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Last Updated: Saturday, 9 August, 2003, 12:38 GMT 13:38 UK
Zapatistas party for the cause
Zapatista women at the event
Peace efforts with the government have stalled
Mexico's Zapatista rebels have gathered in their hundreds in the southern state of Chiapas for a public celebration aimed at relaunching the movement.

Speculation is rife that their charismatic leader, Subcomandante Marcos, will make his first public appearance in two years.

The three-day event, which began on Friday, is billed as a musical jamboree along with the more serious business of launching a self-proclaimed Good Government initiative.

A government bid to stave off autonomy moves by offering new talks has been rejected by the rebels, who seek to represent Mexico's 12 million Indians.

I came for Marcos
hooded Zapatista in Oventic

Reporters at the event in the forest village of Oventic, more than 650 kilometres (400 miles) from Mexico City, were asked not to take interviews as activists turned up in ski masks or bandanas.

But the emphasis has been on fun as indigenous peoples like the Tzotzil step out in traditional dress for events which include folk music concerts and a basketball tournament.

Subcomandante Marcos promised the gathering would be "a hyper-mega-magna-super-duper concert for no other reason than the joy of staying alive and being a rebel".

Raising awareness

The rebels, or Zapatista National Liberation Army, are expected to launch Good Government Committees on Saturday for the 30 or so municipalities they run.

These bodies aim to levy a "brotherly" 10% tax on non-government organisations, bring the movement more closely together and promote its cause abroad.

An offer by President Vicente Fox to restart peace talks ahead of the gathering was quickly rejected but the government has denied drafting security forces into the region in response to the gathering.

The rebels' conflict with the state has been largely peaceful since the violence of January 1994 when at least 150 people died in clashes in Chiapas.

Negotiations have stalled over greater rights for Indians since a 2001 law fell far short of the constitutional amendment the rebels demand.

The BBC's Franc Contreras reports from Mexico City that the Indians are among the poorest people in the Americas.

Infant mortality and common diseases continue to claim many lives among them each year.


WATCH AND LISTEN
The BBC's Rob Parsons
"A new phase in the struggle for self-government"



SEE ALSO:
Silence in the Mexican south
16 Nov 02  |  From Our Own Correspondent
Indigenous Mexicans reject new laws
15 Aug 01  |  Americas
Zapatistas renew struggle
01 May 01  |  Americas


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