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Sunday, March 1, 1998 Published at 08:49 GMT

image: [ BBC Correspondent: Emma Paterson ]Emma Paterson
Mexico City

An international team of human rights observers has spoken of its fears of a worsening conflict in the southern Mexican state of Chiapas after a two-week tour of the turbulent region. At a news conference in Mexico City, members of the 200 strong commission said the situation was worse than they had feared. Meanwhile, the Governor of Chiapas has launched his own seven-point plan to end the four-year conflict and to resume peace talks with the left-wing Zapatista rebels. From Mexico City, Emma Paterson reports:

The team of human rights observers issued a bleak prognosis for the turbulent state of Chiapas. Having toured the region, members of the 200 strong commission said there was a real risk of a deepening conflict.

The situation, according to one observer, was far more dramatic than they had imagined. The human rights mission was launched following the massacre of 45 Indian peasants last December.

The observers said the upsurge in violence had led to a military build-up in the southern state and forced thousands of Indians to flee their homes. The team will present its final report to the European Parliament and the United Nations in two weeks' time.

With the international spotlight once more focused on Chiapas, the local Governor, Roberto Albores, has outlined his own remedy for the impoverished state. Central to his seven-point peace plan is the need to restore public confidence in local government, the security forces and to revive the economy.

Mr Albores said the army should also avoid confrontation with the left-wing Zapatista rebels, who took up arms in 1994, demanding greater rights for poor Indian communities. But none of this is likely to tempt the rebels back to the negotiating table, which they abandoned more than a year ago.

The talks broke down after the government refused to meet rebel demands concerning Indian autonomy. The latest upsurge in violence has forced the Mexican government to pursue negotiations with a greater sense of urgency but so far the two sides have yet to agree on a common agenda which would revive the faltering peace process.

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