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Last Updated: Monday, 11 August, 2003, 16:06 GMT 17:06 UK
Mexico calls for rebel dialogue
Zapatista commanders
The Zapatistas launched their proposals at the weekend
Proposals made by Mexico's Zapatista Indian movement could help restart peace talks, the government says.

Interior Minister Santiago Creel said the government would respect the Zapatistas' plan to create new administrative councils in areas of southern Mexico under their control.

The new councils were announced during a three-day meeting that attracted thousands of Zapatistas in the southern state of Chiapas.

The rebels' demands for greater autonomy and indigenous rights have been largely peaceful since the violence of January 1994, when at least 150 people died in clashes.

But talks broke down in 2001, after a new law fell short of the constitutional amendment the rebels demand.

Change of strategy?

During their meeting at the weekend, leaders of the Zapatista National Liberation Army (EZLN) announced the launch of town councils for the 30 or so municipalities they run.

The councils will settle land disputes and manage aid from charities.

The Zapatistas also pledged to withdraw troops from roadblocks and to stop charging travellers to pass through their territories.

The government says the town councils are in line with Mexico's constitution.

"Let's make this event an opportunity to relaunch new initiatives with an open mind, with new ways to bring us together and to talk," Mr Creel told Mexican radio.

Absent Marcos

The meeting in the village of Oventic ended on Sunday and the thousands of Indians who had gathered for the event started to make their way home.

Some were disappointed that the Zapatista leader Subcomandante Marcos did not make an appearance.

The balaclava-clad, pipe-smoking leader had sent several taped messages to the thousands of Indians and Mexican and foreign supporters of the EZLN who attended the meeting.

Some speculated that Marcos wanted the Zapatista Indians to take the lead and stayed behind at his Lacandona jungle headquarters, or that he was sick, or that he followed all the proceedings from behind the scenes in Oventic.

The governor of Chiapas state says the rebels are clearly moving away from war and entering the political arena.

However before the gathering, the Zapatistas rejected an offer by President Vicente Fox to restart peace talks.

Zapatistas party for the cause
09 Aug 03  |  Americas
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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